Friday, September 9, 2016

On Lithium-Rich Red Giants. I. Engulfment of Sub-Stellar Companions


Aguilera-Gómez et al


A small fraction of red giants are known to be lithium (Li) rich, in contradiction with expectations from stellar evolutionary theory. A possible explanation for these atypical giants is the engulfment of a Li-rich planet or brown dwarf by the star. In this work, we model the evolution of Li abundance in canonical red giants including the accretion of a sub-stellar mass companion. We consider a wide range of stellar and companion masses, Li abundances, stellar metallicities, and planetary orbital periods. Based on our calculations, companions with masses lower than 15 M_J dissolve in the convective envelope and can induce Li enrichment in regimes where extra mixing does not operate. Our models indicate that the accretion of a substellar companion can explain abundances up to A(Li)~2.2, setting an upper limit for Li-rich giants formed by this mechanism. Giants with higher abundances need another mechanism to be explained. For reasonable planetary distributions, we predict the Li abundance distribution of low-mass giants undergoing planet engulfment, finding that between 1% to 3% of them should have A(Li)>1.5. We show that depending on the stellar mass range, this traditional definition of Li-rich giants is misleading, as isolated massive stars would be considered anomalous while giants engulfing a companion would be set aside, flagged as normal. We explore the detectability of companion engulfment, finding that planets with masses higher than ~7 M_J produce a distinct signature, and that descendants of stars originating in the Li-dip and low luminosity red giants are ideal tests of this channel.

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