A dusty pinwheel nebula around the massive star WR 104

Astronomy and Astrophysics – Astrophysics

Scientific paper

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7 pages, 2 figures, Appearing in Nature (1999 April 08)

Scientific paper


Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars are luminous massive blue stars thought to be immediate precursors to the supernova terminating their brief lives. The existence of dust shells around such stars has been enigmatic since their discovery some 30 years ago; the intense radiation field from the star should be inimical to dust survival. Although dust-creation models, including those involving interacting stellar winds from a companion star, have been put forward, high-resolution observations are required to understand this phenomena. Here we present resolved images of the dust outflow around Wolf-Rayet WR 104, obtained with novel imaging techniques, revealing detail on scales corresponding to about 40 AU at the star. Our maps show that the dust forms a spatially confined stream following precisely a linear (or Archimedian) spiral trajectory. Images taken at two separate epochs show a clear rotation with a period of 220 +/- 30 days. Taken together, these findings prove that a binary star is responsible for the creation of the circumstellar dust, while the spiral plume makes WR 104 the prototype of a new class of circumstellar nebulae unique to interacting wind systems.

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