Metallicity

In astronomy, metallicity is the abundance of elements present in an object that are heavier than hydrogen and helium. Most of the normal physical matter in the Universe is either hydrogen or helium, and astronomers use the word "metals" as a convenient short term for "all elements except hydrogen and helium". This word-use is distinct from the conventional chemical or physical definition of a metal as an electrically conducting solid. Stars and nebulae with relatively high abundances of heavier elements are called "metal-rich" in astrophysical terms, even though many of those elements are nonmetals in chemistry.

The globular cluster M80. Stars in globular clusters are mainly older metal-poor members of Population II.

The presence of heavier elements hails from stellar nucleosynthesis, where the majority of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium in the Universe (metals, hereafter) are formed in the cores of stars as they evolve. Over time, stellar winds and supernovae deposit the metals into the surrounding environment, enriching the interstellar medium and providing recycling materials for the birth of new stars. It follows that older generations of stars, which formed in the metal-poor early Universe, generally have lower metallicities than those of younger generations, which formed in a more metal-rich Universe.

Observed changes in the chemical abundances of different types of stars, based on the spectral peculiarities that were later attributed to metallicity, led astronomer Walter Baade in 1944 to propose the existence of two different populations of stars.[1] These became commonly known as Population I (metal-rich) and Population II (metal-poor) stars. A third stellar population was introduced in 1978, known as Population III stars.[2][3][4] These "extremely metal-poor" (XMP) stars are theorized to have been the "first-born" stars created in the Universe.


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