The Chemical Signatures of the First Star Clusters in the Universe

The chemical abundance patterns of the oldest stars in the Galaxy are expected to contain residual signatures of the first stars in the early universe. Numerous studies attempt to explain the intrinsic abundance scatter observed in some metal-poor populations in terms of chemical inhomogeneities dispersed throughout the early Galactic medium due to discrete enrichment events. Just how the complex data and models are to be interpreted with respect to "progenitor yields" remains an open question. Here we show that stochastic chemical evolution models to date have overlooked a crucial fact. Essentially, all stars today are born in highly homogeneous star clusters and it is likely that this was also true at early times. When this ingredient is included, the overall scatter in the abundance plane [Fe/H] versus [X/Fe] ({C}-space), where X is a nucleosynthetic element, can be much less than derived from earlier models. Moreover, for moderately flat cluster mass functions (γ <~ 2), and/or for mass functions with a high mass cutoff (M max >~ 10^5 M sun), stars exhibit a high degree of clumping in {C}-space that can be identified even in relatively small data samples. Since stellar abundances can be modified by mass transfer in close binaries, clustered signatures are essential for deriving the yields of the first supernovae. We present a statistical test to determine whether a given set of observations exhibit such behavior. Our initial work focuses on two dimensions in {C}-space, but we show that the clustering signal can be greatly enhanced by additional abundance axes. The proposed experiment will be challenging on existing 8-10 m telescopes, but relatively straightforward for a multi-object echelle spectrograph mounted on a 25-40 m telescope.