The circumstellar environment and evolutionary state of the supergiant B[e] star Wd1-9

Clark, J. S.; Ritchie, B. W. and Negueruela, I. (2013). The circumstellar environment and evolutionary state of the supergiant B[e] star Wd1-9. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 560, article no. A11.



Context. Historically, supergiant (sg)B[e] stars have been difficult to include in theoretical schemes for the evolution of massive OB stars.
Aims. The location of Wd1-9 within the coeval starburst cluster Westerlund 1 means that it may be placed into a proper evolutionary context and we therefore aim to utilise a comprehensive multiwavelength dataset to determine its physical properties and consequently its relation to other sgB[e] stars and the global population of massive evolved stars within Wd1.
Methods. Multi-epoch R- and I-band VLT/UVES and VLT/FORS2 spectra are used to constrain the properties of the circumstellar gas, while an ISO-SWS spectrum covering 2.45–45 μm is used to investigate the distribution, geometry and composition of the dust via a semi-analytic irradiated disk model. Radio emission enables a long term mass-loss history to be determined, while X-ray observations reveal the physical nature of high energy processes within the system.
Results. Wd1-9 exhibits the rich optical emission line spectrum that is characteristic of sgB[e] stars. Likewise its mid-IR spectrum resembles those of the LMC sgB[e] stars R66 and 126, revealing the presence of equatorially concentrated silicate dust, with a mass of ~10-4 M. Extreme historical and ongoing mass loss (≳10-4 M yr-1) is inferred from the radio observations. The X-ray properties of Wd1-9 imply the presence of high temperature plasma within the system and are directly comparable to a number of confirmed short-period colliding wind binaries within Wd1.
Conclusions. The most complete explanation for the observational properties of Wd1-9 is that it is a massive interacting binary currently undergoing, or recently exited from, rapid Roche-lobe overflow, supporting the hypothesis that binarity mediates the formation of (a subset of) sgB[e] stars. The mass loss rate of Wd1-9 is consistent with such an assertion, while viable progenitor and descendent systems are present within Wd1 and comparable sgB[e] binaries have been identified in the Galaxy. Moreover, the rarity of sgB[e] stars – only two examples are identified from a census of ~68 young massive Galactic clusters and associations containing ~600 post-Main Sequence stars – is explicable given the rapidity (~104 yr) expected for this phase of massive binary evolution.

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