The detached dust and gas shells around the carbon star U Ant
Context: Geometrically thin, detached shells of gas have been found around a handful of carbon stars.
Aims: Previous observations of scattered stellar light in the circumstellar medium around the carbon star U Ant were taken through filters centred on the resonance lines of K and Na. These observations could not separate the scattering by dust and atoms. The aim of this paper is to remedy this situation.
Methods: We have obtained polarization data on stellar light scattered in the circumstellar medium around U Ant through filters which contain no strong lines, making it possible to differentiate between the two scattering agents. Kinematic, as well as spatial, information on the gas shells were obtained through high-resolution echelle spectrograph observations of the KI and NaD lines. Results: We confirm the existence of two detached shells around U Ant. The inner shell (at a radius of approx 43" and a width of approx 2") consists mainly of gas, while the outer shell (at a radius of approx 50" and a width of approx 7") appears to consist exclusively of dust. Both shells appear to have an over-all spherical geometry. The gas shell mass is estimated to be 2x10^-3 M(Sun), while the mass of the dust shell is estimated to be
5x10^-5 M(Sun). The derived expansion velocity, from the KI and NaD lines, of the gas shell, 19.5 km/s, agrees with that obtained from CO radio line data. The inferred shell age is 2700 years. There is structure, e.g. in the form of arcs, inside the gas shell, but it is not clear whether these are due to additional shells.
Conclusions: Our results support the hypothesis that the observed geometrically thin, detached shells around carbon stars are the results of brief periods of intense mass loss, probably associated with thermal pulses, and subsequent wind-wind interactions.
Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics