Volume 551, March 2013
|Number of page(s)||17|
|Section||Interstellar and circumstellar matter|
|Published online||04 March 2013|
Laboratoire Univers et Particules de Montpellier, UMR 5299 CNRS
& Université de Montpellier II,
Case CC72, Place Bataillon,
Montpellier Cedex 5,
2 Physics Department, New York University, 4 Washington Place, NY 10003 New York, USA
Received: 2 May 2012
Accepted: 18 December 2012
We report results of a program to image the extended circumstellar envelopes of asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars in dust-scattered Galactic light. The goal is to characterize the shapes of the envelopes to probe the mass-loss geometry and the presence of hidden binary companions. The observations consist of deep optical imaging of 22 AGB stars with high mass loss rates: 16 with the ESO 3.6 m NTT telescope, and the remainder with other telescopes. The circumstellar envelopes are detected in 15 objects, with mass loss rates ≳2 × 10-6 M⊙ yr-1. The surface brightness of the envelopes shows a strong decrease with Galactic radius, which indicates a steep radial gradient in the interstellar radiation field. The envelopes range from circular to elliptical in shape, and we characterize them by the ellipticity (E = major/minor axis) of iso-intensity contours. We find that ~50% of the envelopes are close to circular with E ≲ 1.1, and others are more elliptical with ~20% with E ≳ 1.2. We interpret the shapes in terms of populations of single stars and binaries whose envelopes are flattened by a companion. The distribution of E is qualitatively consistent with expectations based on population synthesis models of binary AGB stars. We also find that ~50% of the sample exhibit small-scale, elongated features in the central regions. We interpret these as the escape of light from the central star through polar holes, which are also likely produced by companions. Our observations of envelope flattening and polar holes point to a hidden population of binary companions within the circumstellar envelopes of AGB stars. These companions are expected to play an important role in the transition to post-AGB stars and the formation of planetary nebulae.
Key words: stars: AGB and post-AGB / stars: mass-loss / circumstellar matter
Based on observations made at the European Southern Observatory, Chile (programs 078.D-0102, 082.D-0338 and 0.84.D-0302) and on de-archived data obtained with the ESO Very Large Telescope and with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Appendix A and Figs. 5, 6 are available in electronic form at http://www.aanda.org
© ESO, 2013
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