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On the Relation between the Mysterious 21 Micrometer Emission Feature of Post-Asymptotic Giant Branch Stars and Their Mass Loss Rates

  • Mishra, Ajay
  • Li, Aigen
  • Jiang, B. W.
Publication Date
May 10, 2016
Submission Date
May 10, 2016
DOI: 10.3847/0004-637X/825/1/68
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Over two decades ago, a prominent, mysterious emission band peaking at ~20.1 micrometer was serendipitously detected in four preplanetary nebulae (PPNe; also known as "protoplanetary nebulae"). So far, this spectral feature, designated as the "21 micrometer" feature, has been seen in 18 carbon-rich PPNe. The nature of the carriers of this feature remains unknown although many candidate materials have been proposed. The 21 micrometer sources also exhibit an equally mysterious, unidentified emission feature peaking at 30 micrometer. While the 21 micrometer feature is exclusively seen in PPNe, a short-lived evolutionary stage between the end of the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) and planetary nebula (PN) phases, the 30 micrometer feature is commonly observed in all stages of stellar evolution from the AGB through PPN to PNe phases. We derive the stellar mass loss rates (M_{loss}) of these 21 micrometer sources from their dust infrared (IR) emission, using the "2-DUST" radiative transfer code for axisymmetric dusty systems which allows one to distinguish the mass loss rates of the AGB phase (\dot{M_{AGB}}) from that of the superwind (\dot_{M_{SW}}) phase. We examine the correlation between \dot{M_{AGB}} or \dot_{M_{SW}} and the fluxes emitted from the 21 and 30 micrometer features. We find that both features tend to correlate with \dot{M_{AGB}}, suggesting that their carriers are probably formed in the AGB phase. The nondetection of the 21 micrometer feature in AGB stars suggests that, unlike the 30 micrometer feature, the excitation of the carriers of the 21 micrometer feature may require ultraviolet photons which are available in PPNe but not in AGB stars.

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