• galaxies: abundances;
  • galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium;
  • galaxies: individual: M87;
  • X-rays: galaxies: clusters


Using a deep (574 ks) Chandra observation of M87, the dominant galaxy of the nearby Virgo cluster, we present the best measurements to date of the radial distribution of metals in the central intracluster medium (ICM). Our measurements, made in 36 independent annuli with ∼250 000 counts each, extend out to a radius r∼ 40 kpc and show that the abundance profiles of Fe, Si, S, Ar, Ca, Ne, Mg and Ni are all centrally peaked. Interestingly, the abundance profiles of Si and S – which are measured robustly and to high precision – are even more centrally peaked than Fe, while the Si/S ratio is relatively flat. These measurements challenge the standard picture of chemical enrichment in galaxy clusters, wherein Type Ia supernovae (SN Ia) from an evolved stellar population are thought to dominate the central enrichment. The observed abundance patterns are most likely due to one or more of the following processes: continuing enrichment by winds of a stellar population pre-enriched by core-collapse supernova (SNCC) products; intermittent formation of massive stars in the central cooling core; early enrichment of the low-entropy gas. We also discuss other processes that might have contributed to the observed radial profiles, such as a stellar initial mass function that changes with radius; changes in the pre-enrichment of SNCC progenitors; and a diversity in the elemental yields of SN Ia. Although systematic uncertainties prevent us from measuring the O abundance robustly, indications are that it is about two times lower than predicted by the enrichment models.