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Highest Resolution Image of Eta Carinae

An international team of astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer to image the Eta Carinae star system in the greatest detail ever achieved. They found new and unexpected structures within the binary system, including in the area between the two stars where extremely high velocity stellar winds are colliding. These new insights into this enigmatic star system could lead to a better understanding of the evolution of very massive stars.
Led by Gerd Weigelt from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, a team of astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at ESO's Paranal Observatory to take a unique image of the Eta Carinae star system in the Carina Nebula.

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Title: The first full orbit of Eta Carinae seen by Fermi
Author: K. Reitberger, A. Reimer, O. Reimer, H. Takahashi

The binary system eta Carinae has completed its first 5.54y orbit since the beginning of science operation of the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT). We are now able to investigate the high-energy gamma-ray source at the position of eta Carinae over its full orbital period. By this, we can address and confirm earlier predictions for temporal and spectral variability. Newer versions of the LAT datasets, instrument response functions and background models allow for a more accurate analysis. Therefore it is important to re-evaluate the previously analysed time period along with the new data to further constrain location, spectral shape, and flux time history of the gamma-ray source. We confirm earlier predictions of increasing flux values above 10 GeV toward the next periastron passage. For the most recent part of the data sample, flux values as high as those before the first periastron passage in 2008 are recorded. A comparison of spectral energy distributions around periastron and apastron passages reveals strong variation in the high-energy band. This is due to a second spectral component that is present only around periastron. Improved spatial consistency with the gamma-ray source at the position of eta Carinae along with the confirmation of temporal variability above 10 GeV in conjunction with the orbital period strengthens the argument for unambiguous source identification. Spectral variability provides additional constraints for future modelling of the particle acceleration and gamma-ray emission in colliding-wind binary systems.

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ATel 6453: eta Carinae Emerging from the X-ray Minimum

 



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ATel 6357: Start of Eta Car's X-ray Minimum

 



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Eta Carinae: Our Neighbouring Superstars

The Eta Carinae star system does not lack for superlatives. Not only does it contain one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, weighing at least 90 times the mass of the Sun, it is also extremely volatile and is expected to have at least one supernova explosion in the future.
As one of the first objects observed by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory after its launch some 15 years ago, this double star system continues to reveal new clues about its nature through the X-rays it generates.

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ATel 6380: The stability of the He II 4686 line emission across periastron passages in eta Carinae



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ATel 6334: Structured He II 4686A emission in eta Car near periastron



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Title: Eta Carinae -- Physics of the Inner Ejecta
Authors: Fred Hamann

Eta Carinae's inner ejecta are dominated observationally by the bright Weigelt blobs and their famously rich spectra of nebular emission and absorption lines. They are dense (n_e ~ 10^7 to 10^8 cm^-3), warm (T_e ~ 6000 to 7000 K) and slow moving (~40 km/s) condensations of mostly neutral (H^0) gas. Located within 1000 AU of the central star, they contain heavily CNO-processed material that was ejected from the star about a century ago. Outside the blobs, the inner ejecta include absorption-line clouds with similar conditions, plus emission-line gas that has generally lower densities and a wider range of speeds (reaching a few hundred km/s) compared to the blobs. The blobs appear to contain a negligible amount of dust and have a nearly dust-free view of the central source, but our view across the inner ejecta is severely affected by uncertain amounts of dust having a patchy distribution in the foreground. Emission lines from the inner ejecta are powered by photoionisation and fluorescent processes. The variable nature of this emission, occurring in a 5.54 yr event cycle, requires specific changes to the incident flux that hold important clues to the nature of the central object.

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Title: A companion as the cause of latitude-dependent effects in the wind of Eta Carinae
Authors: Jose H. Groh (1, 2), Thomas I. Madura (2), D. J. Hillier (3), C. J. H. Kruip (4), G. Weigelt (2) ((1) Geneva Observatory, Switzerland (2) Max-Planck-Institute for Radioastronomy, Bonn (3) University of Pittsburgh, USA, (4) Leiden University, Netherlands)

We analyse spatially resolved spectroscopic observations of the Eta Carinae binary system obtained with HST/STIS. Eta Car is enshrouded by the dusty Homunculus nebula, which scatters light emitted by the central binary and provides a unique opportunity to study a massive binary system from different vantage points. We investigate the latitudinal and azimuthal dependence of H\alpha line profiles caused by the presence of a wind-wind collision (WWC) cavity created by the companion star. Using two-dimensional radiative transfer models, we find that the wind cavity can qualitatively explain the observed line profiles around apastron. Regions of the Homunculus which scatter light that propagated through the WWC cavity show weaker or no H alpha absorption. Regions scattering light that propagated through a significant portion of the primary wind show stronger P Cygni absorption. Our models overestimate the H alpha absorption formed in the primary wind, which we attribute to photoionisation by the companion, not presently included in the models. We can qualitatively explain the latitudinal changes that occur during periastron, shedding light on the nature of Eta Car's spectroscopic events. Our models support the idea that during the brief period of time around periastron when the primary wind flows unimpeded toward the observer, H alpha absorption occurs in directions toward the central object and Homunculus SE pole, but not toward equatorial regions close to the Weigelt blobs. We suggest that observed latitudinal and azimuthal variations are dominated by the companion star via the WWC cavity, rather than by rapid rotation of the primary star.

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Title: A Model for the 19th Century Eruption of Eta Carinae: CSM Interaction Like a Scaled-Down Type IIn Supernova
Authors: Nathan Smith

This paper proposes a simple model for the 19th century eruption of Eta Carinae that consists of two components: (1) a strong wind (MdotM=0.33 Msun/yr; v=200 km/s), blowing for 30 years, followed by (2) a 1e50 erg explosion in 1844. The ensuing collision between the fast ejecta and the CSM causes an increase in brightness observed at the end of 1844, followed by a sustained high-luminosity phase lasting for 10-15 years that matches the historical light curve. The emergent luminosity is powered by CSM interaction, analogous to the process in luminous Type IIn supernovae, except with 10 times lower explosion energy and at slower speeds (causing a longer duration and lower emergent luminosity). Such an explosive event provides a natural explanation for the light curve evolution, but also accounts for a number of puzzling attributes of the Homunculus nebula: (1) rough equipartition of total radiated and kinetic energy, (2) the double-shell structure of the Homunculus, (3) the apparent single age and Hubble-like flow resulting from the thin swept-up shell, (4) the complex mottled appearance of the polar lobes in HST images, arising from Raleigh-Taylor or Vishniac instabilities, (5) efficient and rapid dust formation, as seen in Type IIn supernovae, and (6) the fast (5000 km/s) material outside the Homunculus, arising from the acceleration of the forward shock upon exiting the dense CSM. In principle, the bipolar shape has already been explained in earlier studies of interacting winds, except that here the CSM interaction occurs over only 10 years, producing a thin shell with the resulting structures then frozen-in to the expanding bipolar nebula. This self-consistent picture has a number of implications for other eruptive transients, many of which may also be powered by CSM interaction.

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