Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc., 456, 3401-3412 (2016/March-2)
Was the nineteenth century giant eruption of Eta Carinae a merger event in a triple system?
PORTEGIES ZWART S.F. and VAN DEN HEUVEL E.P.J.
Abstract (from CDS):
We discuss the events that led to the giant eruption of Eta Carinae, and find that the mid-nineteenth century (in 1838-1843) giant mass-loss outburst has the characteristics of being produced by the merger event of a massive close binary, triggered by the gravitational interaction with a massive third companion star, which is the current binary companion in the Eta Carinae system. We come to this conclusion by a combination of theoretical arguments supported by computer simulations using the Astrophysical Multipurpose Software Environment. According to this model the ∼ 90 M☉ present primary star of the highly eccentric Eta Carinae binary system is the product of this merger, and its ∼ 30 M☉ companion originally was the third star in the system. In our model, the Homunculus nebula was produced by an extremely enhanced stellar wind, energized by tidal energy dissipation prior to the merger, which enormously boosted the radiation-driven wind mass-loss. The current orbital plane is then aligned with the equatorial plane of the Homunculus, and the symmetric lobes are roughly aligned with the argument of periastron of the current Eta Carina binary. The merger itself then occurred in 1838, which resulted in a massive asymmetric outflow in the equatorial plane of the Homunculus. The 1843 outburst can in our model be attributed to the subsequent encounter when the companion star (once the outermost star in the triple system) plunges through the bloated envelope of the merger product, once when it passed periastron again. We predict that the system has an excess space velocity of order 50 km/s in the equatorial plane of the Homunculus. Our triple model gives a viable explanation for the high runaway velocities typically observed in LBVs.