1 Department of Physics and AstronomyThe Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK
2 The Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, S017 1BJ, UK
3 Departamento de Física, Ingeiería de Sistemas y Teoría de la Señal, Universidad de Alicante, Apdo. 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain
4 Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Postfach 1312, Giessenbachstr., 85741 Garching, Germany
5 Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan, 830 Dennison Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1042, USA
6 Warsaw University Observatory, Aleje Ujazdowskie 4, 00-478 Warsaw, Poland
Received: 1 February 2013
Accepted: 2 April 2013
Context. The mechanism by which supergiant (sg)B[e] stars support cool, dense dusty discs/tori and their physical relationship with other evolved, massive stars such as luminous blue variables is uncertain.
Aims. In order to investigate both issues we have analysed the long term behaviour of the canonical sgB[e] star LHA 115-S 18.
Methods. We employed the OGLE II-IV lightcurve to search for (a-)periodic variability and supplemented these data with new and historic spectroscopy.
Results. In contrast to historical expectations for sgB[e] stars, S18 is both photometrically and spectroscopically highly variable. The lightcurve is characterised by rapid aperiodic “flaring” throughout the 16 years of observations. Changes in the high excitation emission line component of the spectrum imply evolution in the stellar temperature – as expected for luminous blue variables – although somewhat surprisingly, spectroscopic and photometric variability appears not to be correlated. Characterised by emission in low excitation metallic species, the cool circumstellar torus appears largely unaffected by this behaviour. Finally, in conjunction with intense, highly variable He ii emission, X-ray emission implies the presence of an unseen binary companion.
Conclusions. S18 provides observational support for the putative physical association of (a subset of) sgB[e] stars and luminous blue variables. Given the nature of the circumstellar environment of S18 and that luminous blue variables have been suggested as supernovae progenitors, it is tempting to draw a parallel to the progenitors of SN1987A and SN2009ip. Moreover the likely binary nature of S18 strengthens the possibility that the dusty discs/tori that characterise sgB[e] stars are the result of binary-driven mass-loss; consequently such stars may provide a window on the short lived phase of mass-transfer in massive compact binaries.
Key words: binaries: close / stars: early-type / stars: emission-line, Be / stars: massive
This work is partly based on observations collected at the European Southern Observatory (programme ID ESO 088.D-0352(A).
Appendices are available in electronic form at http://www.aanda.org
© ESO, 2013