The exotic eclipsing nucleus of the ring planetary nebula SuWt 2

Katrina Exter, Howard E. Bond, Keivan G. Stassun, B. Smalley, P. F.L. Maxted, D. L. Pollacco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


SuWt 2 is a planetary nebula (PN) consisting of a bright ionized thin ring seen nearly edge-on, with much fainter bipolar lobes extending perpendicularly to the ring. It has a bright (12th magnitude) central star, too cool to ionize the PN, which we discovered in the early 1990s to be an eclipsing binary. Although it was anticipated that there would also be an optically faint, hot, ionizing star in the system, a spectrum from the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) did not reveal a UV source. We present extensive ground-based photometry and spectroscopy of the central binary collected over the ensuing two decades, resulting in the determination that the orbital period of the eclipsing pair is 4.9 days, and that it consists of two nearly identical A1 V stars, each of mass ∼2.7 M. The physical parameters of the A stars, combined with evolutionary tracks, show that both are in the short-lived "blue-hook" evolutionary phase that occurs between the main sequence and the Hertzsprung gap, and that the age of the system is about 520 Myr. One puzzle is that the stars' rotational velocities are different from each other, and considerably slower than synchronous with the orbital period. It is possible that the center-of-mass velocity of the eclipsing pair is varying with time, suggesting that there is an unseen third orbiting body in the system. We propose a scenario in which the system began as a hierarchical triple, consisting of a ∼2.9 M star orbiting the close pair of A stars. Upon reaching the asymptotic giant branch stage, the primary engulfed the pair into a common envelope, leading to a rapid contraction of the orbit and catastrophic ejection of the envelope into the orbital plane. In this picture, the exposed core of the initial primary is now a white dwarf of ∼0.7 M , orbiting the eclipsing pair, which has already cooled below the detectability possible by IUE at our derived distance of 2.3 kpc and a reddening of E(B -V) = 0.40. The SuWt 2 system may be destined to perish as a Type Ia supernova.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1414-1427
Number of pages14
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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