Tracing the phase transition of Al-bearing species from molecules to dust in AGB winds. Constraining the presence of gas-phase (Al2O3)n clusters [SSA]

(abbreviated) We aim to constrain the dust formation histories in the winds of oxygen-rich AGB stars. We have obtained ALMA observations with a spatial resolution of 120×150 mas tracing the dust formation region of a low mass-loss rate and a high mass-loss rate AGB star, R Dor and IK Tau. Emission line profiles of AlO, AlOH and AlCl are detected and are used to derive a lower limit of atomic aluminium incorporated in molecules. We show that the gas-phase aluminium chemistry is completely different in both stars, with a remarkable difference in the AlO and AlOH abundance stratification. The amount of aluminium locked up in these 3 molecules is small, <=1.1e-7, for both stars, i.e. only <=2% of the total aluminium budget. This leaves ample of room for aluminium to be incorporated in grains. A fundamental result is that AlO and AlOH, being the direct precursors of alumina grains, are detected well beyond the onset of the dust condensation proving that the aluminium oxide condensation cycle is not fully efficient. The ALMA observations allow us to quantitatively assess the current generation of theoretical dynamical-chemical models for AGB winds. We discuss how the current proposed scenario of aluminium dust condensation for low mass-loss rate AGB stars at a distance of ~1.5 Rstar, in particular for the stars R Dor and W Hya, poses a challenge if one wishes to explain both the dust spectral features in the spectral energy distribution (SED), in interferometric data, and in polarized light signal. In particular, the estimated grain temperature of Al2O3 is too high for the grains to retain their amorphous structure. We propose that large gas-phase (Al2O3)n-clusters (n>34) can be the potential agents of the broad 11 micron feature in the SED and in the interferometric data and we explain how these large clusters can be formed.

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L. Decin, A. Richards, L. Waters, et. al.
Wed, 19 Apr 17

Comments: 21 pages, submitted to Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A), accepted by A&A with some textual revisions still to be done figures at reduced resolution in arxiv paper; full resolution in Astronomy & Astrophysics paper