M31 RV is a luminous red variable star that appeared for several months in the bulge of M31 during 1988. Unlike classical novae, M31 RV was cool throughout its outburst. Interest in this object has been revived recently because of its strong resemblance to V838 Mon, a luminous Galactic variable star that appeared in 2002 and is illuminating a spectacular light echo, and has evolved to ever cooler surface temperatures. (V4332 Sgr is a third object that was also a red supergiant throughout its eruption.) We have examined archival Hubble Space Telescope (HST) images of the site of M31 RV, obtained fortuitously in 1999 with the WFPC2 camera in parallel mode during spectroscopic observations of the nucleus of M31. We located the site of M31 RV in the HST frames precisely through astrometric registration with ground-based CCD images, including several taken during the outburst. No light echo is seen at the M31 RV site, implying either that M31 RV is not surrounded by circumstellar (or interstellar) dust similar to that around V838 Mon, or that its extent is less than ∼1.7 pc. The stellar population at the outburst site consists purely of old red giants; there is no young population, such as that seen around V838 Mon. There are no stars of unusual color at the site, suggesting either that M31 RV had faded below HST detectability in the 11 years since outburst, that it is an unresolved companion of one of the red giants in the field, or that it is one of the red giants. We suggest future observations that may help decide among these possibilities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science