On the baryometric status of 3He

Elisabeth Vangioni-Flam, Keith A. Olive, Brian D. Fields, Michel Cassé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent observations by Bania et al. measure 3He versus oxygen in Galactic H II regions, finding that 3He/H is within a factor of 2 of the solar abundance for [O/H] ≳ - 0.6. These results are consistent with a flat behavior in this metallicity range, tempting one to deduce from these observations a primordial value for the 3He abundance, which could join D and 7Li as an indicator of the cosmic baryon density. However, using the same data, we show that it is not possible to obtain a strong constraint on the baryon density range. This is due to (1) the intrinsically weak sensitivity of the primordial 3He abudance to the baryon density, (2) the limited range in metallicity of the sample, (3) the intrinsic scatter in the data, and (4) our limited understanding of the chemical and stellar evolution of this isotope. Consequently, the 3He observations correspond to an extended range of baryon-to-photon ratio, η = (2.2-6.5) × 10-10, which diminishes the role of 3He as a precision baryometer. On the other hand, once the baryon-to-photon ratio is determined by the cosmic microwave background, D/H, or 7Li/H, the primordial value of 3He/H can be inferred. Henceforth, new observations of Galactic 3He can in principle greatly improve our understanding of stellar and/or chemical evolution and reconcile the observations of the H II regions and those of the planetary nebulae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-616
Number of pages6
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Mar 10 2003


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxy: evolution
  • Nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • Stars: evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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