EDP Sciences
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Volume 495, Number 2, February IV 2009
Page(s) 371 - 377
Section Astrophysical processes
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200810280
Published online 22 December 2008
A&A 495, 371-377 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200810280

On geometric distance determination to the Cepheid RS Puppis from its light echoes

H. E. Bond and W. B. Sparks

Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Dr., Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
    e-mail: [bond;sparks]@stsci.edu

Received 29 May 2008 / Accepted 28 November 2008

Context. The luminous Galactic Cepheid RS Puppis is unique in being surrounded by a dust nebula illuminated by the variable light of the Cepheid. In a recent paper in this journal, Kervella et al. (2008) report a very precise geometric distance to RS Pup, based on measured phase lags of the light variations of individual knots in the reflection nebula.
Aims. In this commentary, we examine the validity of the distance measurement, as well as the reality of the spatial structure of the nebula determined by Feast (2008) based upon the phase lags of the knots.
Methods. Kervella et al. assumed that the illuminated dust knots lie, on average, in the plane of the sky (otherwise it is not possible to derive a geometric distance from direct imaging of light echoes). We consider the biasing introduced by the high efficiency of forward scattering.
Results. We conclude that most of the knots are in fact likely to lie in front of the plane of the sky, thus invalidating the Kervella et al. result. We also show that the flat equatorial disk structure determined by Feast is unlikely; instead, the morphology of the nebula is more probably bipolar, with a significant tilt of its axis with respect to the plane of the sky.
Conclusions. Although the Kervella et al. distance result is invalidated, we show that high-resolution polarimetric imaging has the potential to yield a valid geometric distance to this important Cepheid.

Key words: stars: individual: RS Pup -- stars: circumstellar matter -- stars: distances -- stars: variables: Cepheids -- ISM: reflection nebulae -- scattering

© ESO 2009