David C. Nicholls (1), Michael A. Dopita (1,2) & Ralph S. Sutherland (1) ((1) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Cotter Rd., Weston ACT 2611, Australia; (2) Astronomy Department, King Abdulaziz University, P.O. Box 80203, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
The measurement of electron temperatures and metallicities in H II regions and Planetary Nebulae (PNe) has — for several decades — presented a problem: results obtained using different techniques disagree. What it worse, they disagree consistently. There have been numerous attempts to explain these discrepancies, but none has provided a satisfactory solution to the problem. In this paper, we explore the possibility that electrons in H II regions and PNe depart from a Maxwell-Boltzmann equilibrium energy distribution. We adopt a “kappa-distribution” for the electron energies. Such distributions are widely found in Solar System plasmas, where they can be directly measured. This simple assumption is able to explain the temperature and metallicity discrepancies in H II regions and PNe arising from the different measurement techniques. We find that the energy distribution does not need to depart dramatically from an equilibrium distribution. From an examination of data from H II regions and PNe it appears that kappa ~10 is sufficient to encompass nearly all objects. We argue that the kappa-distribution offers an important new insight into the physics of gaseous nebulae, both in the Milky Way and elsewhere, and one that promises significantly more accurate estimates of temperature and metallicity in these regions.
Complete preprint ===> http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.3880