New clues on the calcium underabundance in early-type galaxies

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We use our new stellar population models, which include effects from variable element abundance ratios, to model the Ca4227 absorption line indices of early-type galaxies (Trager et al.), and to derive calcium element abundances. We find that calcium, although being an alpha-element, is depressed with respect to the other alpha-elements by up to a factor 2. This confirms quantitatively earlier speculations that early-type galaxies are calcium underabundant. We find a clear correlation between alpha/Ca ratio and central velocity dispersion, which implies that more massive galaxies are more calcium underabundant. Interestingly this correlation extends down to the dwarf spheroidal galaxies of the Local Group for which alpha/Ca ratios have been measured from high-resolution spectroscopy of individual stars (Shetrone et al.). The increase of the calcium underabundance with galaxy mass balances the higher total metallicities of more massive galaxies, so that calcium abundance in early-type galaxies is fairly constant and in particular does not increase with increasing galaxy mass. This result may be the key to understand why the CaII triplet absorption of early-type galaxies at 8600 Å is constant to within 5 per cent over a large range of velocity dispersions (Saglia et al.; Cenarro et al.). The origin of the calcium underabundance in early-type galaxies remains yet to be understood. We argue that formation timescales are disfavoured to produce calcium underabundance, and that the option of metallicity dependent supernova yields may be the most promising track to follow
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-283
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


  • galaxies : abundances
  • galaxies : elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • galaxies : evolution
  • galaxies : formation
  • galaxies : stellar content


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