AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 63. Evolution of Chemical Abundances over Cosmic Time
Topical, Oral, Wednesday, June 2, 1999, 8:30-10:00am, 10:45am-12:30pm, 2:00-3:30pm, 3:45-5:30pm, Continental Ballroom A

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[63.06] Probing the High-Redshift Universe with Quasar Elemental Abundances

F. W. Hamann (UC - San Diego)

Quasar element abundances provide unique measures of high-redshift star formation and galaxy evolution. There is a growing consensus from both the emission and intrinsic absorption lines that near-QSO environments have roughly solar or higher metallicities out to redshifts >4. The range is not well known, but solar to a few times solar appears to be typical. There is also evidence for higher metallicities in more luminous objects, and for generally enhanced N/C and Fe/alpha-element abundances compared to solar ratios.

These results identify near-QSO environments as the sites of vigorous, high-redshift star formation -- consistent with the early evolution of massive galactic nuclei or dense proto-galactic clumps. However, the QSOs offer new constraints. For example, 1) most of the enrichment and star formation must occur before the QSOs ``turn on'' or become observable, on time scales of less than ~1 Gyr at least at the highest redshifts. 2) The tentative result for enhanced Fe/alpha suggests that the first local star formation occurred at least ~1 Gyr prior to the observed QSO epoch. 3) The star formation must be extensive in order to reach high metallicities, i.e. a substantial fraction of the local gas must be converted into stars and stellar remnants. The exact fraction depends on the shape of the initial mass function (IMF). 4) The highest derived metallicities require IMFs that are weighted slightly more toward massive stars than the solar neighborhood. 5) High metallicities also require deep gravitational potentials. By analogy with the well-known mass--metallicity relation among low-redshift galaxies, metal-rich QSOs should reside in galaxies (or proto-galaxies) that are minimally as massive (or as dense) as our own Milky Way.

I will review the status and implications of QSO abundance studies.

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