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The metal-poor knee in the Fornax dwarf spheroidal galaxy

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Benjamin Hendricks
  • Andreas Koch
  • Gustavo A. Lanfranchi
  • Corrado Boeche
  • Matthew Walker
  • Christian I. Johnson
  • J. Penarrubia
  • Gerard Gilmore
Article number102
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/04/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>The Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Number of pages9
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


We present α-element abundances of Mg, Si, and Ti for a large sample of field stars in two outer fields of the Fornax dwarf spheroidal (dSph) galaxy, obtained with Very Large Telescope/GIRAFFE (R ~ 16, 000). Due to the large fraction of metal-poor (MP) stars in our sample, we are able to follow the α-element evolution from [Fe/H] ≈ –2.5 continuously to [Fe/H] ≈ –0.7. For the first time we are able to resolve the turnover from the Type II supernovae (SNe) dominated, α-enhanced plateau down to subsolar [α/Fe] values, due to the onset of SNe Ia, and thus to trace the chemical enrichment efficiency of the galaxy. Our data support the general concept of an α-enhanced plateau at early epochs, followed by a well-defined "knee" caused by the onset of SNe Ia, and finally a second plateau with sub-solar [α/Fe] values. We find the position of this knee to be at [Fe/H] ≈ –1.9 and therefore significantly more MP than expected from comparison with other dSphs and standard evolutionary models. Surprisingly, this value is rather comparable to the knee in Sculptor, a dSph ~10 times less luminous than Fornax. Using chemical evolution models, we find that the position of the knee and the subsequent plateau at the sub-solar level can hardly be explained unless the galaxy experienced several discrete star formation (SF) events with a drastic variation in SF efficiency, while a uniform SF can be ruled out. One possible evolutionary scenario is that Fornax experienced one or several major accretion events from gas-rich systems in the past, so that its current stellar mass is not indicative of the chemical evolution environment at ancient times. If Fornax is the product of several smaller buildings blocks, this may also have implications for the understanding of the formation process of dSphs in general.