K. Ohnaka, G. Weigelt, F. Millour, K.-H. Hofmann, T. Driebe, D. Schertl, A. Chelli, F. Massi, R. Petrov, and Ph. Stee

Imaging the dynamical atmosphere of the red supergiant Betelgeuse in the CO first overtone lines with VLTI/AMBER

A&A, 529, id.A163 (2011)


Aims. We present one-dimensional aperture synthesis imaging of the red supergiant Betelgeuse (α Ori) with VLTI/AMBER. We reconstructed for the first time one-dimensional images in the individual CO first overtone lines. Our aim is to probe the dynamics of the inhomogeneous atmosphere and its time variation.

Methods. Betelgeuse was observed between 2.28 and 2.31 µm with VLTI/AMBER using the 16-32-48 m telescope configuration with a spectral resolution up to 12 000 and an angular resolution of 9.8 mas. The good nearly one-dimensional uv coverage allows us to reconstruct one-dimensional projection images (i.e., one-dimensional projections of the object's two-dimensional intensity distributions).

Results. The reconstructed one-dimensional projection images reveal that the star appears differently in the blue wing, line center, and red wing of the individual CO lines. The one-dimensional projection images in the blue wing and line center show a pronounced, asymmetrically extended component up to ~1.3 R, while those in the red wing do not show such a component. The observed one-dimensional projection images in the lines can be reasonably explained by a model in which the CO gas within a region more than half as large as the stellar size is moving slightly outward with 0-5 km s-1, while the gas in the remaining region is infalling fast with 20-30 km s-1. A comparison between the CO line AMBER data taken in 2008 and 2009 shows a significant time variation in the dynamics of the CO line-forming region in the photosphere and the outer atmosphere. In contrast to the line data, the reconstructed one-dimensional projection images in the continuum show only a slight deviation from a uniform disk or limb-darkened disk. We derive a uniform-disk diameter of 42.05 ± 0.05 mas and a power-law-type limb-darkened disk diameter of 42.49 ± 0.06 mas and a limb-darkening parameter of (9.7 ± 0.5) × 10-2. This latter angular diameter leads to an effective temperature of 3690 ± 54 K for the continuum-forming layer. These diameters confirm that the near-IR size of Betelgeuse was nearly constant over the last 18 years, in marked contrast to the recently reported noticeable decrease in the mid-IR size. The continuum data taken in 2008 and 2009 reveal no or only marginal time variations, much smaller than the maximum variation predicted by the current three-dimensional convection simulations.

Conclusions. Our two-epoch AMBER observations show that the outer atmosphere extending to ~1.3-1.4 R is asymmetric and its dynamics is dominated by vigorous, inhomogeneous large-scale motions, whose overall nature changes drastically within one year. This is likely linked to the wind-driving mechanism in red supergiants.

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