An observational study of dust nucleation in Mira (o Ceti)
I. Variable features of AlO and other Al-bearing species⋆
1 ESO, Alonso de Cordova 3107, Vitacura, Casilla 19001, Santiago, Chile
2 Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany
3 Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, Polish Academy of Sciences, Rabiańska 8, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
4 I. Physikalisches Institut, Zülpicher Strasse 77, 50937 Köln, Germany
5 Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA, USA
6 Departement Physik, Universität Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 82, 4056 Basel, Switzerland
7 IRAM, 300 rue de la Piscine, Domaine Universitaire de Grenoble, 38406 St-Martin-d’Hères, France
Received: 8 April 2016
Accepted: 24 May 2016
Context. Dust is efficiently produced by cool giant stars, but the condensation of inorganic dust is poorly understood. Observations of key aluminum bearing molecules around evolved stars has enabled us to investigate the nucleation of alumina (Al2O3) dust in the gas.
Aims. We aim to identify and characterize aluminum bearing species in the circumstellar gas of Mira (o Ceti) in order to elucidate their role in the production of Al2O3 dust.
Methods. We used multiepoch spectral line observations at (sub-)millimeter, far-infrared, and optical wavelengths including: maps with ALMA that probe the gas distribution in the immediate vicinity of the star at ~30 mas; observations with ALMA, APEX, and Herschel in 2013−2015 for studying cycle and inter-cycle variability of the rotational lines of Al-bearing molecules; optical records as far back as 1965 to examine variations in electronic transitions over time spans of days to decades; and velocity measurements and excitation analysis of the spectral features that constrain the physical parameters of the gas.
Results. Three diatomic molecules AlO, AlOH, and AlH, and atomic Al i are the main observable aluminum species in Mira, although a significant fraction of aluminum might reside in other species that have not yet been identified. Strong irregular variability in the (sub-)millimeter and optical features of AlO (possibly the direct precursor of Al2O3) indicates substantial changes in the excitation conditions, or varying abundance that is likely related to shocks in the star. The inhomogeneous distribution of AlO might influence the spatial and temporal characteristics of dust production.
Conclusions. We are unable to quantitatively trace aluminum depletion from the gas, but the rich observational material constrains time-dependent chemical networks. Future improvements should include spectroscopic characterization of higher aluminum oxides, coordinated observations of dust and gas species at different variability phases, and tools to derive abundances in shock-excited gas.
Key words: stars: AGB and post-AGB / stars: mass-loss / circumstellar matter / submillimeter: stars / astrochemistry
The ALMA data, including spectral cubes, moment-zero maps, and spectra, are only available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (22.214.171.124) or via http://cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/qcat?J/A+A/592/A42
© ESO, 2016