The photospheres of about 10–20 per cent of main‐sequence A‐ and B‐type stars exhibit a wide range of chemical peculiarities, often associated with the presence of a magnetic field. It is not exactly known at which stage of stellar evolution these chemical peculiarities develop. To investigate this issue, in this paper we study the photospheric compositions of a sample of Herbig Ae and Be stars, which are considered to be the pre‐main‐sequence progenitors of A and B stars. We have performed a detailed abundance analysis of 20 Herbig stars (three of which have confirmed magnetic fields), and one dusty young star. We have found that half the stars in our sample show λ Boötis (λ Boo) chemical peculiarities to varying degrees, only one star shows weak Ap/Bp peculiarities and all the remaining stars are chemically normal. The incidence of λ Boo chemical peculiarities we find in Herbig stars is much higher than what is seen on the main sequence. We argue that a selective accretion model for λ Boo star formation is a natural explanation for the remarkably large number of λ Boo stars in our sample. We also find that the magnetic Herbig stars do not exhibit a range of chemical compositions remarkably different from the normal stars: one magnetic star displays λ Boo chemical peculiarities (HD 101412), one displays weak Ap/Bp peculiarities (V380 Ori A) and one (HD 190073) is chemically normal. This is completely different from what is seen on the main sequence, where all magnetic A and cool B stars show Ap/Bp chemical peculiarities, and this is consistent with the idea that the magnetic field precedes the formation of the chemical peculiarities typical of Ap and Bp stars.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.