EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 453, Number 3, July III 2006
Page(s) 1059 - 1066
Section Stellar atmospheres
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20054771

A&A 453, 1059-1066 (2006)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20054771

The polar wind of the fast rotating Be star Achernar

VINCI/VLTI interferometric observations of an elongated polar envelope
P. Kervella1 and A. Domiciano de Souza2, 3

1  LESIA, CNRS UMR 8109, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France
    e-mail: Pierre.Kervella@obspm.fr
2  Lab. Univ. d'Astrophysique de Nice (LUAN), CNRS UMR 6525, UNSA, Parc Valrose, 06108 Nice, France
3  Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, CNRS UMR 6203, Département GEMINI, BP 4229, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France

(Received 23 December 2005 / Accepted 20 February 2006)

Context.Be stars show evidence of mass loss and circumstellar envelopes (CSE) from UV resonance lines, near-IR excesses, and the presence of episodic hydrogen emission lines. The geometry of these envelopes is still uncertain, although it is often assumed that they are formed by a disk around the stellar equator and a hot polar wind.
Aims.We probe the close environment of the fast rotating Be star Achernar at angular scales of a few milliarcseconds (mas) in the infrared, in order to constrain the geometry of a possible polar CSE.
Methods.We obtained long-baseline interferometric observations of Achernar with the VINCI/VLTI beam combiner in the H and K bands, using various telescope configurations and baseline lengths with a wide azimuthal coverage.
Results.The observed visibility measurements along the polar direction are significantly lower than the visibility function of the photosphere of the star alone, in particular at low spatial frequencies. This points to the presence of an asymmetric diffuse CSE elongated along the polar direction of the star. To our data, we fit a simple model consisting of two components: a 2D elliptical Gaussian superimposed on a uniform ellipse representing the distorted photosphere of the fast rotating star.
Conclusions.We clearly detected a CSE elongated along the polar axis of the star, as well as rotational flattening of the stellar photosphere. For the uniform-ellipse photosphere we derive a major axis of $\theta_{\rm eq} = 2.13 \pm 0.05$ mas and a minor axis of $\theta_{\rm pol} = 1.51 \pm 0.02$ mas. The relative near-IR flux measured for the CSE compared to the stellar photosphere is $f =
4.7 \pm 0.3$%. Its angular dimensions are loosely constrained by the available data at $\rho_{\rm eq} = 2.7 \pm 1.3$ mas and $\rho_{\rm pol} = 17.6 \pm 4.9$ mas. This CSE could be linked to free-free emission from the radiative pressure driven wind originating from the hot polar caps of the star.

Key words: techniques: high angular resolution -- techniques: interferometric -- stars: emission-line, Be -- stars: mass-loss -- stars: rotation -- stars: individual: Achernar

© ESO 2006