A serendipitous survey for variability amongst the massive stellar population of Westerlund 1

Clark, J. S.; Ritchie, B. W. and Negueruela, I. (2010). A serendipitous survey for variability amongst the massive stellar population of Westerlund 1. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 514, article no. A87.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/200913820


Aims. Massive stars are known to demonstrate significant spectroscopic and photometric variability over a wide range of timescales. However the physical mechanisms driving this behaviour remain poorly understood. Westerlund 1 presents an ideal laboratory for studying these processes in a rich, coeval population of post-main sequence stars and we present a pathfinding study aimed at characterising their variability.

Methods. To do this we utilised the large body of spectroscopic and photometric data that has accumulated for Wd1 during the past decade of intensive studies, supplemented with the sparser historical observations extending back to the early 1960s.

Results. Despite the heterogeneous nature of this dataset, we were able to identify both spectroscopic and photometric variability amongst every class of evolved massive star present within Wd 1. Spectroscopic variability attributable to both wind asphericity and photospheric pulsations was present amongst both the hot and cool hypergiants and the former, also with the Wolf Rayets. Given the limitations imposed by the data, we were unable to determine the physical origin of the wind structure inferred for the OB supergiants, noting that it was present in both single pulsating and binary stars. In contrast we suspect that the inhomogineities in the winds of the Wolf Rayets are driven by binary interactions and, conversely, by pulsations in at least one of the cool hypergiants. Photospheric pulsations were found for stars ranging from spectral types as early as O9 I through to the mid F Ia+ yellow hypergiants – with a possible dependence on the luminosity class amongst the hot supergiants. The spectroscopically variable red supergiants (M2–5 Ia) are also potential pulsators but require further observations to confirm this hypothesis. Given these findings it was therefore rather surprising that, with the exception of W243, no evidence of the characteristic excursions of both luminous blue variables and yellow hypergiants was found. Nevertheless, future determination of the amplitude and periodicity of these pulsations as a function of temperature, luminosity and evolutionary state holds out the tantalising possibility of constraining the nature of the physical mechanisms driving the instabilities that constrain and define stellar evolution in the upper reaches of the HR diagram. Relating to this, the lack of secular evolution amongst the cool hypergiants and the presence of both high-luminosity yellow hypergiants and red supergiants within Wd1 potentially place strong constraints on post-main sequence evolutionary pathways, with the latter result apparently contradicting current theoretical predictions for >25 M stars at solar metallicites.

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