Surprising detection of an equatorial dust lane on the AGB star IRC+10216


Aims: Understanding the formation of planetary nebulae remains elusive because in the preceding asymptotic giant branch (AGB) phase these stars are heavily enshrouded in an optically thick dusty envelope.
Methods: To further understand the morphology of the circumstellar environments of AGB stars we observe the closest carbon-rich AGB star IRC+10216 in scattered light.
Results: When imaged in scattered light at optical wavelengths, IRC+10216 surprisingly shows a narrow equatorial density enhancement, in contrast to the large-scale spherical rings that have been imaged much further out. We use radiative transfer models to interpret this structure in terms of two models: firstly, an equatorial density enhancement, commonly observed in the more evolved post-AGB stars, and secondly, in terms of a dust rings model, where a local enhancement of mass- loss creates a spiral ring as the star rotates.
Conclusions: We conclude that both models can be used to reproduce the dark lane in the scattered light images, which is caused by an equatorially density enhancement formed by dense dust rather than a bipolar outflow as previously thought. We are unable to place constraints on the formation of the equatorial density enhancement by a binary system.

Final reduced images (FITS) are available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to <A h ref=''></A > ( or via <A href= bin/qcat?J/A+A/572/A3'‘> bin/qcat?J/A+A/572/A3Based on observations made with the William Herschel Telescope operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofı́sica de Canarias.