Dynamical atmospheres and winds of M-type AGB stars

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Mass loss, in the form of slow stellar winds, is a decisive factor for the evolution of cool luminous giants, eventually turning them into white dwarfs. These dense outflows are also a key factor in the enrichment of the interstellar medium with newly produced elements from the interior of these stars. There are strong indications that these winds are accelerated by radiation pressure on dust grains, but the actual grain species responsible for driving the outflows in M-type Asymptotic Giant Branch stars are still a matter of debate. Observations of dust features in the circumstellar environment of these stars suggest that magnesium-iron silicates are possible wind-drivers. However, the optical properties of these silicate grains are strongly influenced by the Fe-content. Fe-bearing condensates heat up strongly when interacting with the radiation field and therefore cannot form close enough to the star to trigger outflows. Fe-free condensates, on the other hand, have a low absorption cross-section at near-IR wavelengths where AGB stars emit most of their flux.  To solve this conundrum, it has been suggested that winds of M-type AGB stars may be driven by photon scattering on Fe-free silicate grains with sizes comparable to the wavelength of the flux maximum, rather than by true absorption. In this thesis we investigate dynamical models of M-type AGB stars, using Fe-free silicates as the wind-driving dust species. According to our findings these models produce both dynamic and photometric properties consistent with observations. Especially noteworthy are the large photometric variations in the visual band during a pulsation cycle, seen both in the observed and synthetic fluxes. A closer examination of the models reveals that these variations are caused by changes in the molecular layers, and not by changes in the dust. This is a strong indication that stellar winds of M-type AGB stars are driven by dust materials that are very transparent in the visual and near-infrared wavelength regions, otherwise these molecular effects would not be visible.