The large-scale nebular pattern of a superwind binary in an eccentric orbit

  • Nature Astronomy 1, Article number: 0060 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0060
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Preplanetary nebulae and planetary nebulae are evolved, mass-losing stellar objects that show a wide variety of morphologies. Many of these nebulae consist of outer structures that are nearly spherical (spiral/shell/arc/halo) and inner structures that are highly asymmetric (bipolar/multipolar) 1,2 . The coexistence of such geometrically distinct structures is enigmatic because it hints at the simultaneous presence of both wide and close binary interactions, a phenomenon that has been attributed to stellar binary systems with eccentric orbits 3 . Here, we report high-resolution molecular line observations of the circumstellar spiral-shell pattern of AFGL 3068, an asymptotic giant branch star transitioning to the preplanetary nebula phase. The observations clearly reveal that the dynamics of the mass loss is influenced by the presence of an eccentric-orbit binary. This quintessential object opens a window on the nature of deeply embedded binary stars through the circumstellar spiral-shell patterns that reside at distances of several thousand au from the stars.

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This paper makes use of the following ALMA data: ADS/JAO.ALMA#2013.1.00179.S. ALMA is a partnership of the European Southern Observatory (representing its member states), the National Science Foundation (USA) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (Japan), together with the National Research Council (Canada), the National Science Council and Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (Taiwan), and Korea Astronomy (Taiwan), Space Science Institute (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by the European Southern Observatory, Associated Universities, Inc. National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. H.K. acknowledges support through the East Asian Core Observatories Association Fellowship, and thanks F. Kemper for encouraging the project and reviewing an early version of the manuscript. R.S.’s contribution to this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA, with financial support in part from a NASA/STScI HST award (GO 11676.02).

Author information


  1. Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, PO Box 23-141, Taipei 10617, Taiwan

    • Hyosun Kim
    • , Alfonso Trejo
    • , Sheng-Yuan Liu
    • , Ronald E. Taam
    • , Naomi Hirano
    •  & I-Ta Hsieh
  2. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, MS 183-900, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, California 91011, USA

    • Raghvendra Sahai
  3. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • Ronald E. Taam
  4. University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1547, USA

    • Mark R. Morris


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H.K. planned the project, prepared and submitted the proposal, and wrote the manuscript. A.T. was involved in observation preparation, data reduction and analysis, and commented on the manuscript. S.-Y.L. was involved in project planning, data interpretation, and manuscript preparation. R.S., R.E.T., M.R.M. and N.H. were involved in the science discussion as well as writing the proposal and manuscript. I.-T.H. did the radiative transfer modelling in the proposal preparation that generated the data for this study.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hyosun Kim.

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