ALMA observations of the supergiant B[e] star Wd1-9

Fenech, D. M.; Clark, J. S.; Prinja, R. K.; Morford, J. C.; Dougherty, S. and Blomme, R. (2017). ALMA observations of the supergiant B[e] star Wd1-9. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, 464(1) L75-L79.



Mass-loss in massive stars plays a critical role in their evolution, although the precise mechanism(s) responsible – radiatively driven winds, impulsive ejection and/or binary interaction – remain uncertain. In this Letter, we present Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimeter Array line and continuum observations of the supergiant B[e] star Wd1-9, a massive post-main-sequence object located within the starburst cluster Westerlund 1 (Wd1). We find it to be one of the brightest stellar point sources in the sky at millimetre wavelengths, with (serendipitously identified) emission in the H41α radio recombination line. We attribute these properties to a low velocity (∼100 km s-1 ) ionized wind, with an extreme mass-loss rate ≳6.4 × 105(d/5 kpc)1.5 Mȯyr-1. External to this is an extended aspherical ejection nebula indicative of a prior phase of significant mass-loss. Taken together, the millimetre properties of Wd1-9 show a remarkable similarity to those of the highly luminous stellar source MWC349A. We conclude that these objects are interacting binaries evolving away from the main sequence and undergoing rapid case-A mass transfer. As such they – and by extension the wider class of supergiant B[e] stars – may provide a unique window into the physics of a process that shapes the life-cycle of ∼70 per cent of massive stars found in binary systems.

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