University of Hertfordshire

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Polarization due to rotational distortion in the bright star Regulus

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages33
JournalNature Astronomy
Journal publication date18 Sep 2017
Volume1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2017

Abstract

Polarization in stars was first predicted by Chandrasekhar [1] who calculated a substantial linear polarization at the stellar limb for a pure electron-scattering atmosphere. This polarization will average to zero when integrated over a spherical star but could be detected if the symmetry is broken, for example by the eclipse of a binary companion. Nearly 50 years ago, Harrington and Collins [2] modeled another way of breaking the symmetry and producing net polarization - the distortion of a rapidly rotating hot star. Here we report the first detection of this effect. Observations of the linear polarization of Regulus, with two different high-precision polarimeters, range from +42 parts-per-million (ppm) at a wavelength of 741 nm to -22 ppm at 395 nm. The reversal from red to blue is a distinctive feature of rotation-induced polarization. Using a new set of models for the polarization of rapidly rotating stars we find that Regulus is rotating at 96.5(+0.6/-0.8)% of its critical angular velocity for breakup, and has an inclination greater than 76.5 degrees. The rotation axis of the star is at a position angle of 79.5+/-0.7 degrees. The conclusions are independent of, but in good agreement with, the results of previously published interferometric observations of Regulus [3]. The accurate measurement of rotation in early-type stars is important for understanding their stellar environments [4], and course of their evolution [5].

Notes

This is the full published article (retrieved from the 6 months post-publication posting on arXiv) including the Methods and Supplementary Information sections: 33 pages, 10 figures, 8 tables

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