(abreviated) We aim to study the inner-wind structure (R<250 Rstar) of the well-known red supergiant VY CMa. We analyse high spatial resolution (~0".24x0".13) ALMA Science Verification (SV) data in band 7 in which four thermal emission lines of gaseous sodium chloride (NaCl) are present at high signal-to-noise ratio. For the first time, the NaCl emission in the inner wind region of VY CMa is spatially resolved. The ALMA observations reveal the contribution of up to four different spatial regions. The NaCl emission pattern is different compared to the dust continuum and TiO2 emission already analysed from the ALMA SV data. The emission can be reconciled with an axisymmetric geometry, where the lower density polar/rotation axis has a position angle of ~50 degrees measured from north to east. However, this picture can not capture the full morphological diversity, and discrete mass ejection events need to be invoked to explain localized higher-density regions. The velocity traced by the gaseous NaCl line profiles is significantly lower than the average wind terminal velocity, and much slower than some of the fastest mass ejections, signalling a wide range of characteristic speeds for the mass loss. Gaseous NaCl is detected far beyond the main dust condensation region. Realising the refractory nature of this metal halide, this hints at a chemical process preventing all NaCl from condensing onto dust grains. We show that in the case of the ratio of the surface binding temperature to the grain temperature being ~50, only some 10% of NaCl remains in gaseous form, while for lower values of this ratio thermal desorption efficiently evaporates NaCl. Photodesorption by stellar photons seems not to be a viable explanation for the detection of gaseous NaCl at 220 Rstar from the central star, and instead, we propose shock-induced sputtering driven by localized mass ejection events as alternative.
Bibliographical note17 pages, Astronomy & Astrophysics