HIFISTARS Herschel/HIFI observations of VY Canis Majoris. Molecular-line inventory of the envelope around the largest known star

To gain insight into the physical conditions and kinematics of the warm (100-1000 K) gas around the red hyper-giant VY CMa, we performed sensitive high spectral resolution observations of molecular lines in the sub-mm/FIR using the HIFI instrument of the Herschel Space Observatory. We observed CO, H2O, and other molecular species, sampling excitation energies from a few tens to a few thousand K. These observations are part of the Herschel Guaranteed Time Key Program HIFISTARS. We detected the J=6-5, J=10-9, and J=16-15 lines of 12CO and 13CO at about 100, 300, and 750K above the ground state (and the 13CO J=9-8 line). These lines are crucial for improving the modelling of the internal layers of the envelope around VY CMa. We also detected 27 lines of H2O and its isotopomers, and 96 lines of species such as NH3, SiO, SO, SO2 HCN, OH and others, some of them originating from vibrationally excited levels. Three lines were not unambiguously assigned. Our observations confirm that VY CMa’s envelope must consist of two or more detached components. The molecular excitation in the outer layers is significantly lower than in the inner ones, resulting in strong self-absorbed profiles in molecular lines that are optically thick in this outer envelope, for instance, low-lying lines of H2O. Except for the most abundant species, CO and H2O, most of the molecular emission detected at these sub-mm/FIR wavelengths arise from the central parts of the envelope. The spectrum of VY CMa is very prominent in vibrationally excited lines, which are caused by the strong IR pumping present in the central regions. Compared with envelopes of other massive evolved stars, VY CMa’s emission is particularly strong in these vibrationally excited lines, as well as in the emission from less abundant species such as H13CN, SO, and NH3.

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Date added: Thu, 10 Oct 13