Fr.: décantation par gravité
A physical process occurring in → stellar atmospheres whereby in a very stable atmosphere → heavy elements are gravitationally pulled down preferentially. If such an atmosphere is stable for long periods of time, the → absorption lines of heavy elements may therefore become very weak. Observationally, the star seems to contain only → hydrogen and → helium. Gravitational settling takes place in the Sun at the bottom of the outer → convective zone where helium is dragged down, leading to a surface He abundant smaller than the cosmic value. It occurs also in the atmospheres of → brown dwarfs and → planets. See also → radiative levitation, → element diffusion, → thermal diffusion.