The interstellar N/O abundance ratio: Evidence for local infall?

David C. Knauth*, David M. Meyer, James T. Lauroesch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Sensitive measurements of the interstellar gas-phase oxygen abundance have revealed a slight oxygen deficiency (∼15%) toward stars within 500 pc of the Sun as compared to more distant sight lines. Recent FUSE observations of the interstellar gas-phase nitrogen abundance indicate larger variations, but no trends with distance were reported due to the significant measurement uncertainties for many sight lines. By considering only the highest quality (≥5 σ) N/O abundance measurements, we find an intriguing trend in the interstellar N/O ratio with distance. Toward the seven stars within ∼500 pc of the Sun, the weighted mean N/O ratio is 0.217 ± 0.011, while for the six stars farther away the weighted mean value (N/O = 0.142 ± 0.008) is curiously consistent with the current solar value (N/O = 0.138- 0.18+0.20). It is difficult to imagine a scenario invoking environmental (e.g., dust depletion or ionization) variations alone that explains this abundance anomaly. Is the enhanced nitrogen abundance localized to the solar neighborhood or evidence of a more widespread phenomenon? If it is localized, then recent infall of low-metallicity gas in the solar neighborhood may be the best explanation. Otherwise, the N/O variations may be best explained by large-scale differences in the interstellar mixing processes for AGB stars and Type II supernovae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L115-L118
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 II
StatePublished - Aug 20 2006


  • ISM: abundances
  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: structure
  • Ultraviolet: ISM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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