Fr.: diffusion des éléments
An important physical process occurring in stars, which is the relative separation of the various → chemical elements. It is caused by → gravitational settling and → thermal diffusion, on the one hand, and → radiative levitation on the other. This process, which was described by Michaud (1970) to account for the abundance anomalies observed in → chemically peculiar → A star, is now recognized as occuring in all types of stars. Its influence on the observed → chemical abundances is extremely variable, however, due to competing macroscopic motions like → convective → mixing or rotation-induced → turbulence. In the Sun, no observable abundance anomalies are expected from element diffusion, as the time scale of the process is longer than the solar lifetime. However the small induced → depletion of → helium and → heavy elements by about 20% is detectable through → helioseismology. Such detections are more difficult in stars, as only global → oscillation modes can be detected, in contrast to the Sun, where local oscillations of the surface can be analyzed (Théado et al., 2005, A&A 437, 553).