ALMA observations of the variable 12CO/13CO ratio around the asymptotic giant branch star R Sculptoris
Journal article, 2013
The 12CO/13CO ratio is often used as a measure of the 12C/13C ratio in the circumstellar environment, carrying important information about the stellar nucleosynthesis. External processes can change the 12CO and 13CO abundances, and spatially resolved studies of the 12CO/13CO ratio are needed to quantify the effect of these processes on the globally determined values. Additionally, such studies provide important information on the conditions in the circumstellar environment. The detached-shell source R Scl, displaying CO emission from recent mass loss, in a binary-induced spiral structure as well as in a clumpy shell produced during a thermal pulse, provides a unique laboratory for studying the differences in CO isotope abundances throughout its recent evolution. We observed both the 12CO(J = 3 → 2) and the 13CO(J = 3 → 2) line using ALMA. We find significant variations in the 12CO/13CO intensity ratios and consequently in the abundance ratios. The average CO isotope abundance ratio is at least a factor three lower in the shell (~19) than that in the present-day (≤300 years) mass loss (>60). Additionally, variations in the ratio of more than an order of magnitude are found in the shell itself. We attribute these variations to the competition between selective dissociation and isotope fractionation in the shell, of which large parts cannot be warmer than ~35 K. However, we also find that the 12CO/13CO ratio in the present-day mass loss is significantly higher than the 12C/13C ratio determined in the stellar photosphere from molecular tracers (~19). The origin of this discrepancy is still unclear, but we speculate that it is due to an embedded source of UV-radiation that is primarily photo-dissociating 13CO. This radiation source could be the hitherto hidden companion. Alternatively, the UV-radiation could originate from an active chromosphere of R Scl itself. Our results indicate that caution should be taken when directly relating the 12CO/13CO intensity and 12C/13C abundance ratios for specific asymptotic giant branch stars, in particular binaries or stars that display signs of chromospheric stellar activity. © ESO, 2013.
Stars: AGB and post-AGB