The rapid evolution of the exciting star of the Stingray Nebula

N. Reindl, T. Rauch, M. Parthasarathy, K. Werner, J. W. Kruk, W.-R. Hamann, A. Sander, and H. Todt

Context: SAO244567, the exciting star of the Stingray nebula, is rapidly evolving. Previous analyses suggested that it has heated up from an effective temperature of about 21 kK in 1971 to over 50 kK in the 1990s. Canonical post-asymptotic giant branch evolution suggests a relatively high mass while previous analyses indicate a low-mass star.

Aims: A comprehensive model-atmosphere analysis of UV and optical spectra taken during 1988 - 2013 should reveal the detailed temporal evolution of its atmospheric parameters and provide explanations for the unusually fast evolution.

Methods: Fitting line profiles from static and expanding non-LTE model atmospheres to the observed spectra allowed us to study the temporal change of effective temperature, surface gravity, mass-loss rate, and terminal wind velocity. In addition, we determined the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

Results: We find that the central star has steadily increased its effective temperature from 38 kK in 1988 to a peak value of 60 kK in 2002. During the same time, the star was contracting, as concluded from an increase in surface gravity from log g=4.8 to 6.0 and a drop in luminosity. Simultaneously, the mass-loss rate declined from log(M-dot / Msun yr-1) = -9.0 to -11.6 and the terminal wind velocity increased from vinfinity = 1800 km/ s to 2800 km/ s. Since around 2002, the star stopped heating and has cooled down again to 55 kK by 2006. It has a largely solar surface composition with the exception of slightly subsolar carbon, phosphorus, and sulfur. The results are discussed by considering different evolutionary scenarios.

Conclusions: The position of SAO244567 in the log Teff - log g plane places the star in the region of sdO stars. By comparison with stellar-evolution calculations, we confirm that SAO244567 must be a low-mass star (M < 0.55 Msun). However, the slow evolution of the respective stellar evolutionary models is in strong contrast to the observed fast evolution and the young planetary nebula with a kinematical age of only about 1000 years. We speculate that the star could be a late He-shell flash object. Alternatively, it could be the outcome of close-binary evolution. Then SAO244567 would be a low-mass (0.354 Msun) helium prewhite dwarf after the common-envelope phase, during which the planetary nebula was ejected.

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Paper in NASA ADS

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