VLTI/PIONIER images the Achernar disk swell⋆
1 Université Côte d’Azur, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Lagrange, Blvd de l’Observatoire, CS 34229, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France
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2 Unidad Mixta Internacional Franco-Chilena de Astronomía (UMI 3386), CNRS/INSU, France & Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Camino El Observatorio 1515, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile
3 LESIA (UMR 8109), Observatoire de Paris, PSL, CNRS, UPMC, Univ. Paris-Diderot, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
4 ESO – European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, Santiago, Casilla 19001, Chile
5 Instituto de Astronomia, Geofísica e Ciências Atmosféricas, Universidade de São Paulo (USP), rua do Matão 1226, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP – 05508-900, Brazil
Received: 1 February 2016
Accepted: 8 February 2017
Context. The mechanism of disk formation around fast-rotating Be stars is not well understood. In particular, it is not clear which mechanisms operate, in addition to fast rotation, to produce the observed variable ejection of matter. The star Achernar is a privileged laboratory to probe these additional mechanisms because it is close, presents B ⇌ Be phase variations on timescales ranging from ~6 yr to ~15 yr, a companion star was discovered around it, and probably presents a polar wind or jet.
Aims. Despite all these previous studies, the disk around Achernar was never directly imaged. Therefore we seek to produce an image of the photosphere and close environment of the star.
Methods. We used infrared long-baseline interferometry with the PIONIER instrument at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) to produce reconstructed images of the photosphere and close environment of the star over four years of observations. To study the disk formation, we compared the observations and reconstructed images to previously computed models of both the stellar photosphere alone (normal B phase) and the star presenting a circumstellar disk (Be phase).
Results. The observations taken in 2011 and 2012, during the quiescent phase of Achernar, do not exhibit a disk at the detection limit of the instrument. In 2014, on the other hand, a disk was already formed and our reconstructed image reveals an extended H-band continuum excess flux. Our results from interferometric imaging are also supported by several Hα line profiles showing that Achernar started an emission-line phase sometime in the beginning of 2013. The analysis of our reconstructed images shows that the 2014 near-IR flux extends to ~1.7–2.3 equatorial radii. Our model-independent size estimation of the H-band continuum contribution is compatible with the presence of a circumstellar disk, which is in good agreement with predictions from Be-disk models.
Key words: stars: individual: Achernar / stars: rotation / stars: imaging / circumstellar matter / instrumentation: interferometers / techniques: high angular resolution
© ESO, 2017