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Water is a ubiquitous molecule in circumstellar envelopes (CSEs). Its emission has been detected at a wide range of distances from the central oxygen-rich evolved star. In particular, the water maser transition at 22 GHz, typically extending from about 5–20 stellar radii to as far as several hundred stellar radii from the star, has been commonly used to probe the structure and dynamics of the intermediate regions of the CSE where dust is condensing and the inner wind is being accelerated. The advent of ALMA has opened the door to high-angular resolution mapping of much higher excitation transitions of water, probing the inner regions of the CSEs, some of which are anticipated to exhibit maser action. The ALMA ATOMIUM large program observed many such transitions towards a sample of AGB stars & red supergiants. The preliminary results show that while some transitions depart only slightly from LTE, others clearly show signs of maser action. The Gaussian fitting of the non-diffuse/compact part of some of the (quasi) thermal & maser transitions reveal interesting velocity gradients, signatures of outflowing and infalling motions hence providing important constraints for stellar wind models.
With the use of high-resolution ALMA observations, complex structures that resemble those observed in post-AGB stars and planetary nebulae are detected in the circumstellar envelopes of low-mass evolved stars. These deviations from spherical symmetry are believed to be caused primarily by the interaction with a companion star or planet. With the use of three-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations, we study the impact of a binary companion on the wind morphology and dynamics of an AGB outflow. We classifiy the wind structures and morphology that form in these simulations with the use of a classification parameter, constructed with characteristic parameters of the binary configuration. Finally we conclude that the companion alters the wind expansion velocity through the slingshot mechanism, if it is massive enough.
Low- and intermediate mass stars experience a significant mass loss during the last phases of their evolution, which obscures them in a vast, dusty envelope. Although it has long been thought this envelope is generally spherically symmetric in shape, recent high-resolution observations find that most of these stars exhibit complex and asymmetrical morphologies, most likely resulting from binary interaction. In order to improve our understanding about these systems, theoretical studies are needed in the form of numerical simulations. Currently, a handful of simulations exist, albeit they mainly focus on the hydrodynamics of the outflow. Hence, we here present the pathway to more detailed and accurate modelling of companion-perturbed outflows with, by discussing the missing but crucial physical and chemical processes. With these state-of-the-art simulations we aim to make a direct comparison with observations to unveil the true identity on the embedded systems.
Stellar winds of Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars are responsible for the production of ∼85% of the gas molecules in the interstellar medium (ISM), and yet very few of the gas phase rate coefficients under the relevant conditions (10 – 3000 K) needed to model the rate of production and loss of these molecules in stellar winds have been experimentally measured. If measured at all, the value of the rate coefficient has often only been obtained at room temperature, with extrapolation to lower and higher temperatures using the Arrhenius equation. However, non-Arrhenius behavior has been observed often in the few measured rate coefficients at low temperatures. In previous reactions studied, theoretical simulations of the formation of long-lived pre-reaction complexes and quantum mechanical tunneling through the barrier to reaction have been utilized to fit these non-Arrhenius behaviours of rate coefficients.
Reaction rate coefficients that were predicted to produce the largest change in the production/loss of Complex Organic Molecules (COMs) in stellar winds at low temperatures were selected from a sensitivity analysis. Here we present measurements of rate coefficients using a pulsed Laval nozzle apparatus with the Pump Laser Photolysis - Laser Induced Fluorescence (PLP-LIF) technique. Gas flow temperatures between 30 – 134 K have been produced by the University of Leeds apparatus through the controlled expansion of N2 or Ar gas through Laval nozzles of a range of Mach numbers between 2.49 and 4.25.
Reactions of interest include those of OH, CN, and CH with volatile organic species, in particular formaldehyde, a molecule which has been detected in the ISM. Kinetics measurements of these reactions at low temperatures will be presented using the decay of the radical reagent. Since formaldehyde and the formal radical (HCO) are potential building blocks of COMs in the interstellar medium, low temperature reaction rate coefficients for their production and loss can help to predict the formation pathways of COMs observed in the interstellar medium.
Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars contribute a major part to the global dust budget in galaxies. Owing to their refractory nature alumina (stoichiometric formula AlO) is a promising candidate to be the first condensate emerging in the atmospheres of oxygen-rich AGB stars. Strong evidence for that is supplied by the presence of alumina in pristine meteorites and a broad spectral feature observed around ∼ 13 μm. The emergence of a specific condensate depends on the thermal stability of the solid, the gas density and its composition. The evaluation of the condensates is based on macroscopic bulk properties. The growth and size distribution of dust grains is commonly described by Classical Nucleation Theory (CNT). We question the applicability of CNT in an expanding circumstellar envelope as CNT presumes thermodynamic equilibrium and requires, in practise, seed nuclei on which material can condense. However, nano-sized molecular clusters differ significantly from bulk analogues. Quantum effects of the clusters lead to non-crystalline structures, whose characteristics (energy, geometry) differ substantially, compared to the bulk material. Hence, a kinetic quantum-chemical treatment involving various transition states describes dust nucleation most accurately. However, such a treatment is prohibitive for systems with more than 10 atoms. We discuss the viability of chemical-kinetic routes towards the formation of the monomer (Al2O3) and the dimer (Al4O6) of alumina.
A promising candidate to initiate dust formation in oxygen-rich AGB stars is alumina (Al2O3) showing an emission feature around ∼13μm attributed to Al−O stretching and bending modes (Posch+99,Sloan+03). The counterpart to alumina in carbon-rich AGB atmospheres is the highly refractory silicon carbide (SiC) showing a characteristic feature around 11.3μm (Treffers74). Alumina and SiC grains are thought to represent the first condensates to emerge in AGB stellar atmospheres. We follow a bottom-up approach, starting with the smallest stoichiometric clusters (i.e. Al4O6, Si2C2), successively building up larger-sized clusters. We present new results of quantum-mechanical structure calculations of (Al2O3)n, n = 1−10 and (SiC)n clusters with n = 1−16, including potential energies, rotational constants, and structure-specific vibrational spectra. We demonstrate the energetic viability of homogeneous nucleation scenarios where monomers (Al2O3 and SiC) or dimers (Al4O6 and Si2C2) are successively added. We find significant differences between our quantum theory based results and nanoparticle properties derived from (classical) nucleation theory.
Magritte is a new deterministic radiative transfer code. It is a ray-tracing code that computes the radiation field by solving the radiative transfer equation along a fixed set of rays for each grid cell. Its ray-tracing algorithm is independent of the type of input grid and thus can handle smoothed-particle hydrodynamics (SPH) particles, structured as well as unstructured grids. The radiative transfer solver is highly parallelized and optimized to have well scaling performance on several computer architectures. Magritte also contains separate dedicated modules for chemistry and thermal balance. These enable it to self-consistently model the interdependence between the radiation field and the local thermal and chemical states. The source code for Magritte will be made publically available at github.com/Magritte-code.
We investigated the large scale atmospheric circulation of Gl581g, a potentially habitable planet around an M dwarf star, using an idealized dry global circulation model (GCM) with simplified thermal forcing as a first step towards a systematic extended parameter study. The results are compared with the work of Joshi et al. (1997) who investigated a tidally-locked habitable Earth analogue with less than half the rotation period of Gl581g. The extent, form and strength of the atmospheric circulation in each model generally agree with each other, even though the models differ in key parameters such as planetary radius, surface gravity, forcing scheme and rotation period. The substellar point is associated with an uprising direct circulation-branch of a Hadley-like cell with return flow over the poles. It is compelling to assume that the substellar point of a tidally locked terrestrial exoplanet behaves dynamically like the Earth's tropic associated with clouds and precipitation, making it an ideal target for habitability.
We present numerical simulations of the hydrodynamical interactions that produce circumstellar shells. These simulations include several scenarios, such as wind-wind interaction and wind-ISM collisions. In our calculations we have taken into account the presence of dust in the stellar wind. Our results show that, while small dust grains tend to be strongly coupled to the gas, large dust grains are only weakly coupled. As a result, the distribution of the large dust grains is not representative of the gas distribution. Combining these results with observations may give us a new way of validating hydrodynamical models of the circumstellar medium.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
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