Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 397, 487-501 (2003/1-2)
On the origin of nitrogen.
PILYUGIN L.S., THUAN T.X. and VILCHEZ J.M.
Abstract (from CDS):
The problem of the origin of nitrogen is considered within the framework of an empirical approach. The oxygen abundances and nitrogen to oxygen abundances ratios are derived in HII regions of a number of spiral galaxies through the recently suggested P-method using more than six hundred published spectra. The N/O-O/H diagram for HII regions in irregular and spiral galaxies is constructed. It is found that the N/O values in HII regions of spiral galaxies of early morphological types are higher than those in HII regions with the same metallicity in spiral galaxies of late morphological types. This suggests a long-time-delayed contribution to the nitrogen production. The N/O ratio of a galaxy can then be used as an indicator of the time that has elapsed since the bulk of star formation occurred, or in other words of the nominal ``age'' of the galaxy as suggested by Edmunds & Pagel more than twenty years ago. The scatter in N/O values at a given O/H can be naturally explained by differences in star formation histories in galaxies. While low-metallicity dwarf galaxies with low N/O do not contain an appreciable amount of old stars, low-metallicity dwarf galaxies with an appreciable fraction of old stars have high N/O. Consideration of planetary nebulae in the Small Magellanic Cloud and in the Milky Way Galaxy suggests that the contribution of low-mass stars to the nitrogen production is significant, confirming the conclusion that there is a long-time-delayed contribution to the nitrogen production.