(Sub)stellar companions shape the winds of evolved stars

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Science  18 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6510, pp. 1497-1500
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb1229

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Complex stellar winds from evolved stars

Stars less than eight times the mass of the Sun end their lives as planetary nebulae, structures of ionized gas thrown off by the star and heated by the exposed stellar core. Planetary nebulae are often bipolar in shape or contain complex morphological features such as rings or spirals. Decin et al. observed the stellar winds of 14 stars during their asymptotic giant branch (AGB) phase of stellar evolution, which immediately precedes the planetary nebula phase. They found morphologies in the AGB winds similar to planetary nebulae and demonstrated that they are produced by the influence of a binary companion on the AGB wind.

Science, this issue p. 1497


Binary interactions dominate the evolution of massive stars, but their role is less clear for low- and intermediate-mass stars. The evolution of a spherical wind from an asymptotic giant branch (AGB) star into a nonspherical planetary nebula (PN) could be due to binary interactions. We observed a sample of AGB stars with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and found that their winds exhibit distinct nonspherical geometries with morphological similarities to planetary nebulae (PNe). We infer that the same physics shapes both AGB winds and PNe; additionally, the morphology and AGB mass-loss rate are correlated. These characteristics can be explained by binary interaction. We propose an evolutionary scenario for AGB morphologies that is consistent with observed phenomena in AGB stars and PNe.

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