1 ICMM. CSIC. Group of Molecular Astrophysics. C/ Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz 3. Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain
2 National Radio Astronomy Observatory, 520 Edgemont Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA
3 Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique, 300 rue de la Piscine, 38406 Saint Martin d’Hères, France
4 LERMA, Observatoire de Paris, PSL Research University, CNRS, UMR 8112, 75014 Paris, France
Received: 9 July 2014
Accepted: 5 December 2014
Thermally-pulsating AGB stars provide three-fourths of the matter returned to the interstellar medium. The mass and chemical composition of their ejecta largely control the chemical evolution of galaxies. Yet, both the mass loss process and the gas chemical composition remain poorly understood. We present maps of the extended 12CO and 13CO emissions in IRC+10216, the envelope of CW Leo, the high mass loss star the closest to the Sun. IRC+10216 is nearly spherical and expands radially with a velocity of 14.5 km s-1. The observations were made On-the-Fly with the IRAM 30 m telescope; their sensibility, calibration, and angular resolution are far higher than all previous studies. The telescope resolution at λ = 1.3 mm (11′′ HPBW) corresponds to an expansion time of 500 yr. The CO emission consists of a centrally peaked pedestal and a series of bright, nearly spherical shells. It peaks on CW Leo and remains relatively strong up to rphot = 180′′. Further out the emission becomes very weak and vanishes as CO gets photodissociated. As CO is the best tracer of the gas up to rphot, the maps show the mass loss history in the last 8000 yr. The bright CO shells denote over-dense regions. They show that the mass loss process is highly variable on timescales of hundreds of years. The new data, however, do not support previous claims of a strong decrease of the average mass loss in the last few thousand years. The over-dense shells are not perfectly concentric and extend farther to the N-NW. The typical shell separation is 800−1000 yr in the middle of the envelope, but seems to increase outwards. The shell-intershell brightness contrast is ≥3. All those key features can be accounted for if CW Leo has a companion star with a period ≃800 yr that increases the mass loss rate when it comes close to periastron. Higher angular resolution observations are needed to fully resolve the dense shells and measure the density contrast. The latter plays an essential role in our understanding of the envelope chemistry.
Key words: astrochemistry / stars: AGB and post-AGB / circumstellar matter / stars: individual: IRC+10216
This work was based on observations carried out with the IRAM 30 m telescope. IRAM is supported by INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany) and IGN (Spain).
Movies associated to Figs. 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10 are available in electronic form at http://www.aanda.org
Data cubes as FITS files are only available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (220.127.116.11) or via http://cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/qcat?J/A+A/575/A91
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