CO, Water, and Tentative Methanol in η Carinae Approaching Periastron
Physics and Astronomy
Astrophysical Journal Letters
The complex circumstellar environment around the massive binary and luminous blue variable η Carinae is known to harbor numerous light molecules, emitting most strongly in rotational states with upper level energies to ∼300 K. In circumstellar gas, the complex organic molecule methanol (CH3OH) has been found almost exclusively around young stellar objects, and thus regarded as a signpost of recent star formation. Here we report the first potential detection of methanol around a highly evolved high-mass star, while using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array to investigate molecular cloud conditions traced by CO (2-1) in an orbit phase preceding the 2020 periastron. The methanol emission originates from hot (T gas ≃ 700 K) material, ∼2″ (0.02 pc) across, centered on the dust-obscured binary, and is accompanied by prominent absorption of continuum radiation in a cooler (T gas ≃ 110 K) layer of gas. We also report a first detection of water in Herschel observations at 557 and 988 GHz. The methanol abundance is several to 50 times higher than observed toward several lower-mass stars, while water abundances are similar to those observed in cool, dense molecular clouds. The very high methanol:water abundance ratio in the core of η Car may suggest methanol formation processes similar to Fischer-Tropsch-type catalytic reactions on dust grains. These observations prove that complex molecule formation can occur in a chemically evolved massive stellar environment, given sufficient gas densities and shielding conditions as may occur in material around massive interacting companions and merger remnants.
Patrick W. Morris, Steven B. Charnley, Michael Corcoran, Martin Cordiner, Augusto Damineli, Jose H. Groh, Theodore R. Gull, Laurent Loinard, Thomas Madura, Andrea Mehner, Anthony Moffat, Maureen Y. Palmer, Gioia Rau, Noel D. Richardson, and Gerd Weigelt. "CO, Water, and Tentative Methanol in η Carinae Approaching Periastron" Astrophysical Journal Letters (2020). https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/ab784a