On the deuterium abundance and the importance of stellar mass loss in the interstellar and intergalactic medium

van de Voort et al., available on arXiv.

Abstract: We quantify the gas-phase abundance of deuterium in cosmological zoom-in simulations from the Feedback In Realistic Environments project. The cosmic deuterium fraction decreases with time, because mass lost from stars is deuterium-free. At low metallicity, our simulations confirm that the deuterium abundance is very close to the primordial value. The deuterium abundance decreases towards higher metallicity, with very small scatter between the deuterium and oxygen abundance. We compare our simulations to existing high-redshift observations in order to determine a primordial deuterium fraction of (2.549 +/- 0.033) x 10^-5 and stress that future observations at higher metallicity can also be used to constrain this value. At fixed metallicity, the deuterium fraction decreases slightly with decreasing redshift, due to the increased importance of mass loss from intermediate-mass stars. We find that the evolution of the average deuterium fraction in a galaxy correlates with its star formation history. Our simulations are consistent with observations of the Milky Way’s interstellar medium: the deuterium fraction at the solar circle is 83-92% of the primordial deuterium fraction. We use our simulations to make predictions for future observations. In particular, the deuterium abundance is lower at smaller galactocentric radii and in higher mass galaxies, showing that stellar mass loss is more important for fuelling star formation in these regimes (and can even dominate). Gas accreting onto galaxies has a deuterium fraction above that of the galaxies’ interstellar medium, but below the primordial fraction, because it is a mix of gas accreting from the intergalactic medium and gas previously ejected or stripped from galaxies.