The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris

Nathan Smith, Roberta M. Humphreys, Kris Davidson, Robert D. Gehrz, M. T. Schuster, Joachim Krautter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

107 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We present HST/WFPC2 images plus ground-based infrared images and photometry of the very luminous OH/IR star VY Canis Majoris. Our WFPC2 data show a complex distribution of knots and filamentary arcs in the asymmetric reflection nebula around the obscured central star. The reflection arcs may result from multiple, asymmetric ejection episodes due to localized events on VY CMa's surface. Such events probably involve magnetic fields and convection, by analogy with solar activity. Surface photometry indicates that the star may have experienced enhanced mass loss over the past 1000 yr. We also demonstrate that the apparent asymmetry of the nebula results from a combination of high extinction and backscattering by dust grains. Thermal-infrared images reveal a more symmetric distribution, elongated along a nearly east-west direction. VY CMa probably has a flattened disklike distribution of dust with a northeast-southwest polar axis and may be experiencing activity analogous to solar prominences. The presence of an axis of symmetry raises interesting questions for a star the size of Saturn's orbit. Magnetic fields and surface activity may play an important role in VY CMa's mass-loss history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1111-1125
Number of pages15
JournalAstronomical Journal
Volume121
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2001
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

nebulae
stars
dust
magnetic field
photometry
arcs
solar prominences
reflection nebulae
Saturn
solar activity
symmetry
asymmetry
extinction
convection
magnetic fields
ejection
backscattering
histories
history
orbits

Keywords

  • Circumstellar matter
  • Stars: individual (VY Canis Majoris)
  • Supergiants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics

Cite this

Smith, N., Humphreys, R. M., Davidson, K., Gehrz, R. D., Schuster, M. T., & Krautter, J. (2001). The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris. Astronomical Journal, 121(2), 1111-1125. https://doi.org/10.1086/318748

The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris. / Smith, Nathan; Humphreys, Roberta M.; Davidson, Kris; Gehrz, Robert D.; Schuster, M. T.; Krautter, Joachim.

In: Astronomical Journal, Vol. 121, No. 2, 02.2001, p. 1111-1125.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Smith, N, Humphreys, RM, Davidson, K, Gehrz, RD, Schuster, MT & Krautter, J 2001, 'The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris', Astronomical Journal, vol. 121, no. 2, pp. 1111-1125. https://doi.org/10.1086/318748
Smith N, Humphreys RM, Davidson K, Gehrz RD, Schuster MT, Krautter J. The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris. Astronomical Journal. 2001 Feb;121(2):1111-1125. https://doi.org/10.1086/318748
Smith, Nathan ; Humphreys, Roberta M. ; Davidson, Kris ; Gehrz, Robert D. ; Schuster, M. T. ; Krautter, Joachim. / The asymmetric nebula surrounding the extreme red supergiant VY Canis Majoris. In: Astronomical Journal. 2001 ; Vol. 121, No. 2. pp. 1111-1125.
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