Journal Article

Episodic post-shock dust formation in the colliding winds of Eta Carinae

Nathan Smith

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 402, issue 1, pages 145-151
Published in print February 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online February 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Episodic post-shock dust formation in the colliding winds of Eta Carinae

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Eta Carinae shows broad peaks in near-infrared (IR) JHKL photometry, roughly correlated with times of periastron passage in the eccentric binary system. After correcting for secular changes attributed to reduced extinction from the thinning Homunculus nebula, these peaks have IR spectral energy distributions (SEDs) consistent with emission from hot dust at 1400–1700 K. The excess SEDs are clearly inconsistent, however, with the excess being entirely due to free–free wind or photospheric emission. One must conclude, therefore, that the broad near-IR peaks associated with Eta Carinae's 5.5 yr variability are due to thermal emission from hot dust. I propose that this transient hot dust results from episodic formation of grains within compressed post-shock zones of the colliding winds, analogous to the episodic dust formation in Wolf–Rayet (WR) binary systems like WR 140 or the post-shock dust formation seen in some supernovae like SN 2006jc. This dust formation in Eta Carinae seems to occur preferentially near and after periastron passage; near-IR excess emission then fades as the new dust disperses and cools. With the high grain temperatures and Eta Car's C-poor abundances, the grains are probably composed of corundum or similar species that condense at high temperatures, rather than silicates or graphite. Episodic dust formation in Eta Car's colliding winds significantly impacts our understanding of the system, and several observable consequences are discussed.

Keywords: circumstellar matter; stars: individual: Eta Carinae; stars: variables: other; stars: winds, outflows; dust, extinction

Journal Article.  5674 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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