Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 551A, 110-110 (2013/3-1)
Deep optical imaging of asymptotic giant branch circumstellar envelopes.
MAURON N., HUGGINS P.J. and CHEUNG C.-L.
Abstract (from CDS):
We report results of a program to image the extended circumstellar envelopes of asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars in dust-scattered Galactic light. The goal is to characterize the shapes of the envelopes to probe the mass-loss geometry and the presence of hidden binary companions. The observations consist of deep optical imaging of 22 AGB stars with high mass loss rates: 16 with the ESO 3.6 m NTT telescope, and the remainder with other telescopes. The circumstellar envelopes are detected in 15 objects, with mass loss rates >2x10–6M☉/yr. The surface brightness of the envelopes shows a strong decrease with Galactic radius, which indicates a steep radial gradient in the interstellar radiation field. The envelopes range from circular to elliptical in shape, and we characterize them by the ellipticity (E = major/minor axis) of iso-intensity contours. We find that ∼50% of the envelopes are close to circular with E≲1.1, and others are more elliptical with ∼20% with E>1.2. We interpret the shapes in terms of populations of single stars and binaries whose envelopes are flattened by a companion. The distribution of E is qualitatively consistent with expectations based on population synthesis models of binary AGB stars. We also find that ∼50% of the sample exhibit small-scale, elongated features in the central regions. We interpret these as the escape of light from the central star through polar holes, which are also likely produced by companions. Our observations of envelope flattening and polar holes point to a hidden population of binary companions within the circumstellar envelopes of AGB stars. These companions are expected to play an important role in the transition to post-AGB stars and the formation of planetary nebulae.