A VLT/FLAMES survey for massive binaries in Westerlund 1: III. The WC9d binary W239 and implications for massive stellar evolution

Clark, J. S.; Ritchie, B. W.; Negueruela, I.; Crowther, P. A.; Damineli, A.; Jablonski, F. J. and Langer, N. (2011). A VLT/FLAMES survey for massive binaries in Westerlund 1: III. The WC9d binary W239 and implications for massive stellar evolution. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 531, article no. A28.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201116990


Context. There is growing evidence that a treatment of binarity amongst OB stars is essential for a full theory of stellar evolution. However the binary properties of massive stars – frequency, mass ratio & orbital separation –are still poorly constrained.

Aims. In order to address this shortcoming we have undertaken a multiepoch spectroscopic study of the stellar population of the young massive cluster Westerlund 1. In this paper we present an investigation into the nature of the dusty Wolf-Rayet star and candidate binary W239.

Methods. To accomplish this we have utilised our spectroscopic data in conjunction with multi-year optical and near-IR photometric observations in order to search for binary signatures. Comparison of these data to synthetic non-LTE model atmosphere spectra were used to derive the fundamental properties of the WC9 primary.

Results. We found W239 to have an orbital period of only ~5.05 days, making it one of the most compact WC binaries yet identified. Analysis of the long term near-IR lightcurve reveals a significant flare between 2004-6. We interpret this as evidence for a third massive stellar component in the system in a long period (>6 yr), eccentric orbit, with dust production occuring at periastron leading to the flare. The presence of a near-IR excess characteristic of hot (~1300 K) dust at every epoch is consistent with the expectation that the subset of persistent dust forming WC stars are short (<1 yr) period binaries, although confirmation will require further observations. Non-LTE model atmosphere analysis of the spectrum reveals the physical properties of the WC9 component to be fully consistent with other Galactic examples.

Conclusions. The simultaneous presence of both short period Wolf-Rayet binaries and cool hypergiants within Wd 1 provides compelling evidence for a bifurcation in the post-Main Sequence evolution of massive stars due to binarity. Short period O+OB binaries will evolve directly to the Wolf-Rayet phase, either due to an episode of binary mediated mass loss – likely via case A mass transfer or a contact configuration – or via chemically homogenous evolution. Conversely, long period binaries and single stars will instead undergo a red loop across the HR diagram via a cool hypergiant phase. Future analysis of the full spectroscopic dataset for Wd 1 will constrain the proportion of massive stars experiencing each pathway; hence quantifying the importance of binarity in massive stellar evolution up to and beyond supernova and the resultant production of relativistic remnants.

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