A deep survey of heavy element lines in planetary nebulae - II. Recombination-line abundances and evidence for cold plasma

Tsamis, Y. G.; Barlow, M. J.; Liu, X.-W.; Storey, P. J. and Danziger, I. J. (2004). A deep survey of heavy element lines in planetary nebulae - II. Recombination-line abundances and evidence for cold plasma. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 353(3) pp. 953–979.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.08140.x


In our Paper I, we presented deep optical observations of the spectra of 12 Galactic planetary nebulae (PNe) and three Magellanic Cloud PNe, carrying out an abundance analysis using the collisionally excited forbidden lines. Here, we analyse the relative intensities of faint optical recombination lines (ORLs) from ions of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in order to derive the abundances of these ions relative to hydrogen. The relative intensities of four high-l C ii recombination lines with respect to the well-known 3d–4f λ4267 line are found to be in excellent agreement with the predictions of recombination theory, removing uncertainties about whether the high C2+ abundances derived from the λ4267 line could be due to non-recombination enhancements of its intensity.

We define an abundance discrepancy factor (ADF) as the ratio of the abundance derived for a heavy element ion from its recombination lines to that derived for the same ion from its ultraviolet, optical or infrared collisionally excited lines (CELs). All of the PNe in our sample are found to have ADFs that exceed unity. Two of the PNe, NGC 2022 and LMC N66, have O2+ ADFs of 16 and 11, respectively, while the remaining 13 PNe have a mean O2+ ADF of 2.6, with the smallest value being 1.8.

Garnett and Dinerstein found that for a sample of about 12 PNe the magnitude of the O2+ ADF was inversely correlated with the nebular Balmer line surface brightness. We have investigated this for a larger sample of 20 PNe, finding weak correlations with decreasing surface brightness for the ADFs of O2+ and C2+. The C2+ ADFs are well correlated with the absolute radii of the nebulae, although no correlation is present for the O2+ ADFs. We also find both the C2+ and O2+ ADFs to be strongly correlated with the magnitude of the difference between the nebular [O iii] and Balmer jump electron temperatures (ΔT), corroborating a result of Liu et al. for the O2+ ADF. ΔT is found to be weakly correlated with decreasing nebular surface brightness and increasing absolute nebular radius.

There is no dependence of the magnitude of the ADF upon the excitation energy of the ultraviolet, optical or infrared CEL transition used, indicating that classical nebular temperature fluctuations – i.e. in a chemically homogeneous medium – are not the cause of the observed abundance discrepancies. Instead, we conclude that the main cause of the discrepancy is enhanced ORL emission from cold ionized gas located in hydrogen-deficient clumps inside the main body of the nebulae, as first postulated by Liu et al. for the high-ADF PN, NGC 6153. We have developed a new electron temperature diagnostic, based upon the relative intensities of the O ii 4f–3d λ4089 and 3p–3s λ4649 recombination transitions. For six out of eight PNe for which both transitions are detected, we derive O2+ ORL electron temperatures of ≤300 K, very much less than the O2+ forbidden-line and H+ Balmer jump temperatures derived for the same nebulae. These results provide direct observational evidence for the presence of cold plasma regions within the nebulae, consistent with gas cooled largely by infrared fine-structure transitions; at such low temperatures, recombination transition intensities will be significantly enhanced due to their inverse power-law temperature dependence, while ultraviolet and optical CELs will be significantly suppressed.

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