Spatially Resolved STIS Spectra of Betelgeuse's Upper Chromosphere and Circumstellar Dust Envelope

Research paper by A. Lobel

Indexed on: 23 Apr '05Published on: 23 Apr '05Published in: Astrophysics


The Hubble Space Telescope observed red supergiant Betelgeuse with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to investigate the outer atmosphere from spatially resolved spectra. We present a new set of seven high-resolution near-UV spectra observed with HST-STIS in fall 2002 and spring 2003, by scanning at chromospheric intensity peak-up position and six off-limb target positions up to three arcseconds away from the star. A small aperture is used to study and determine the thermal conditions and flow dynamics in its upper chromosphere and inner circumstellar dust envelope. We provide the first evidence for the presence of warm chromospheric plasma at least 3 arcseconds away from Betelgeuse at ~120 R* (1 R* ~= 700 Rsun) based on detailed spectroscopic observations of the Mg II h & k emission lines. Many other weak chromospheric emission lines as Fe II lam2716, C II lam2327, Al II] lam2669, and Fe I lam2823 are detected out to at least 1 arcsecond in the spatially resolved STIS observations. The profiles of the Mg II h & k and the Si I resonance emission lines reveal a strong increase of asymmetry by scanning off-limb, signaling the outward acceleration of wind expansion in Betelgeuse's upper chromosphere beyond 200 mas (~8 R*). We discuss detailed radiative transfer models that fit the STIS observations showing that the local kinetic gas temperature in the upper chromosphere exceeds 2600 K. Our radiation transport models for the IR silicate dust emission at 9.8 um in the upper chromosphere show however that the ambient gas temperature remains below 600 K to sustain the presence of dust grains. Hence, the STIS spectra of Betelgeuse's upper chromosphere directly demonstrate that warm chromospheric plasma must co-exist with cool dusty plasma in its outer atmosphere.