A Detailed View on the Circumstellar Environment of the M-type AGB Star EP Aquarii I. High-resolution ALMA and SPHERE Observations

W. Homan, E Cannon, M Montarges, A M S Richards, T J Millar, L Decin

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Cool evolved stars are known to be significant contributors to the enrichment of the interstellar medium through their dense and dusty stellar winds. High resolution observations of these outflows have shown them to possess high degrees of morphological complexity. We observed the asymptotic giant branch star EP Aquarii with ALMA in band 6 and VLT/SPHERE/ZIMPOL in 4 filters the visible. Both instruments had an angular resolution of 0.025”. These are follow- up observations to the lower-resolution 2016 ALMA analysis of EP Aquarii, which revealed that its wind possesses a nearly face-on, spiral-harbouring equatorial density enhancement, with a nearly pole-on bi-conical outflow. At the base of the spiral the SiO emission revealed a distinct emission void approximately 0.4” to the west of the continuum brightness peak, which was proposed to be linked to the presence of a companion. The new ALMA data better resolves the inner wind, and reveals that its morphology as observed in CO is consistent with hydrodynamical companion-induced perturbations. Assuming that photodissociation by the UV-field of the companion is responsible for the emission void in SiO, we deduced the spectral properties of the tentative companion from the size of the hole. We conclude that the most probable companion candidate is a white dwarf with a mass between 0.65 and 0.8M, though a solar-like companion could not be definitively excluded. Finally, the radial SiO emission shows periodic, low-amplitude perturbations. The origin of these shells remains unclear, but time scale arguments exclude stellar surface pulsational shocks or the primary companion candidate as probable origin. We tentatively propose that they could be the consequence of the interaction of the AGB wind with another much closer low-mass companion. The polarised SPHERE/ZIMPOL data shows a circular signal surrounding the AGB star with a radius of around 0.1”. Decreased polarized signal along a position-angle of 138 axis suggests that the dust is confined to an inclined ring-like structure, consistent with the previously determined wind morphology.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA93
Number of pages21
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Early online date07 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 09 Oct 2020

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