How Many Elements Matter?

Yuan Sen Ting*, David H. Weinberg

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Some studies of stars' multielement abundance distributions suggest at least 5-7 significant dimensions, but others show that many elemental abundances can be predicted to high accuracy from [Fe/H] and [Mg/Fe] (or [Fe/H] and age) alone. We show that both propositions can be, and are, simultaneously true. We adopt a machine-learning technique known as normalizing flow to reconstruct the probability distribution of Milky Way disk stars in the space of 15 elemental abundances measured by APOGEE. Conditioning on T eff and logg minimizes the differential systematics. After further conditioning on [Fe/H] and [Mg/Fe], the residual scatter for most abundances is σ [X/H] 2 0.02 dex, consistent with APOGEE's reported statistical uncertainties of 1/40.01-0.015 dex and intrinsic scatter of 0.01-0.02 dex. Despite the small scatter, residual abundances display clear correlations between elements, which we show are too large to be explained by measurement uncertainties or by the finite sampling noise. We must condition on at least seven elements to reduce the correlations to a level consistent with the observational uncertainties. Our results demonstrate that cross-element correlations are a much more sensitive probe of a hidden structure than dispersion, and they can be measured precisely in a large sample even if the star-by-star measurement noise is comparable to the intrinsic scatter. We conclude that many elements have an independent story to tell, even for the mundane disk stars and elements produced by the core-collapse and Type Ia supernovae. The only way to learn these lessons is to measure the abundances directly, and not merely infer them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number209
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Volume927
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

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