IRAS 60 and 100µm observations of the classical nova GK Persei (nova Persei 1901) reveal a far-IR emission region extending 17 arcminutes on either side of the binary system. We have applied a maximum entropy reconstruction method to the IRAS data (HIRAS) to examine the spatial distribution of the far-IR emission. We report the discovery that the bipolar far-IR emission feature consists of several discrete regions of emission placed with a high degree of symmetry about the binary. We interpret this as strong evidence for the stellar origin of the extended envelope. The temperature appears to be uniform across the emission feature, implying that the discrete features are due to density enhancements. The age of the binary compared to the age of the extended dust structure requires the material in the extended structure to have originated from the evolved secondary star via Roche Lobe overflow onto the white dwarf, not directly from the white dwarf progenitor AGB star. The initial mass transfer rate was sufficiently high to convert the white dwarf into a `born-again' AGB star. We estimate the Main Sequence mass of the secondary to have been 1.3-1.5M☉. We suggest that the density enhancements are due to ejection epochs every ∼4x104 or 4x105years (dependent on the expansion velocity) which may be due to thermal pulses of the `born-again' AGB star. We argue that it is likely the nova outburst of 1901 was the first such event in this system. The geometry of the extended region is unclear. The data are suggestive of a bipolar outflow, though this is difficult to understand in the context of the evolution of the system.
stars: nova GK Per (HD 21629) - novae - circumstellar matter - infrared: stars