Imaging the dust and the gas around Mira using ALMA and SPHERE/ZIMPOL
Journal article, 2019
The mass-loss mechanism of asymptotic giant branch stars has long been thought to rely on two processes: Stellar pulsations and dust formation. The details of the mass-loss mechanism have remained elusive, however, because of the overall complexity of the dust formation process in the very dynamical pulsation-enhanced atmosphere. Recently, our understanding of AGB stars and the associated mass loss has evolved significantly, thanks both to new instruments which allow sensitive and high-angular-resolution observations and the development of models for the convective AGB envelopes and the dust formation process. ALMA and SPHERE/ZIMPOL on the VLT have been very important instruments in driving this advance in the last few years by providing high-angular resolution images in the sub-mm and visible wavelengths, respectively. I will present observations obtained using these instruments at the same epoch (2.5 weeks apart) of the AGB star Mira that resolve even the stellar disk. The ALMA data reveals the distribution and dynamics of the gas around the star, while the polarised light imaged using SPHERE shows the distribution of the dust grains expected to drive the outflows. Moreover, the observations show a central source surrounded by asymmetric distributions of gas and dust, with complementary structures seen in the two components. We model the observed CO v = 1, J = 3-2 line to determine the density, temperature and velocity of gas close to the star. This model is then used to estimate the abundance of AlO. Our results show that only a very small fraction of aluminium (‰20.1%) is locked in AlO molecules. We also calculate models to fit the observed polarised light based on the gas densities we find. The low level of visible-light polarisation detected using ZIMPOL implies that, at the time of the observations, aluminium atoms are either not efficiently depleted into dust or the aluminium-oxide grains are relatively small (‰20.02μm).