Principal Investigator: Augusto Damineli VSS Coordinator: Mark Blackford
Eta Carinae is now so bright that its 400-year long history of photometry risks being interrupted. Ironically, this could happen in a phase when we finally can see the central stars almost un-obscured. Very few CCD observers today are able to continue this historical monitoring since the star saturates with 1 sec exposure time even using small aperture telescopes.
Continued visual estimations are strongly encouraged to monitor long term trends; however, Augusto Damineli and other professional astronomers also require precision photometry data for their models.
Eta Carinae (star + Homunculus) has been brightening at a rate ΔV ~0.02 mag/yr since 2000 (Figure 1). In 2010 the central star brightness overcame that of the reflection nebula, which remained almost constant (V~5.46) – see Damineli et al. 2019 MNRAS (https://arxiv.org/abs/1901.00531). This is due to the fact that the central star is obscured by a natural coronagraph mask which is dissipating, a process that will end in 2032 (+/-4 yr).
Figure 1 – Red: V-band light-curve, Green: the same light-curve shifted by 1 cycle and displaced by -0.25 magnitudes. The zoom shows the present ongoing short-lived event and the corresponding spectroscopic changes.
The second major feature in the eta’s light-curve is the Orbital Modulation. It has an amplitude of ΔV~0.3 and is strictly periodic (P=2023d or 5.538yr, the orbital period of the companion star). It is caused by the distorted shape of the primary’s stellar wind as it rotates. The distortion is shaped by the cavity produced by the wind-wind collision (see Figure 2).
Observing the system up to the next maximum of the Orbital Modulation (early 2021) is crucial to obtain data for a 3D model of such an interesting mechanism.
Figure 2 – Density profile of the primary’s star wind at different phases. Observers see a continuously changing cross section. This effect is color invariant, as observed.
The brightness in 2019.0 is inside a local minimum and is expected to rise during 2019 and 2020, when it will reach a new maximum.
Figure 3 – Finder chart and aperture for photometry extraction (center crop of stacked image).
Figure 4 – Relative intensity of eta Car and its comparison star.
Many CCD cameras have shutters that open circularly causing the illumination to decrease radially. The non-uniformity is negligible for exposures >5 secs. The effect can be minimized by pointing the telescope to a coordinate in between the variable and comparison stars so they are affected by the same amount. Augusto suggests:
If you wish to participate in this campaign, please contact Mark Blackford (email@example.com).