The origin of hydrogen line emission for five Herbig Ae/Be stars spatially resolved by VLTI/AMBER spectro-interferometry

see Kraus et al. 2008,
A&A, 489, 1157

Accretion and outflow processes are of fundamental importance for our understanding of the formation of stars and planetary systems. To trace these processes, diagnostic spectral lines such as the Brγ 2.166 μm line are widely used, although due to a lack of spatial resolution, the origin of the line emission is still unclear.

Employing the AU-scale spatial resolution which can be achieved with infrared long-baseline interferometry, we aim to distinguish between theoretical models which associate the Brγ line emission with mass infall (magnetospheric accretion, gaseous inner disks) or mass outflow processes (stellar winds, X-winds, or disk winds).

Using the VLTI/AMBER instrument, we spatially and spectrally (λ/Δλ = 1500) resolved the inner (
5 AU) environment of five Herbig Ae/Be stars (HD 163296, HD 104237, HD 98922, MWC 297, V921 Sco) in the Brγ emission line as well as in the adjacent continuum. From the measured wavelength-dependent visibilities, we derive the characteristic size of the continuum and Brγ line-emitting region. Additional information is provided by the closure phase, which we could measure both in the continuum wavelength regime (for four objects) as well as in the spectrally resolved Brγ emission line (for one object). The spectro-interferometric data is supplemented by archival and new VLT/ISAAC spectroscopy.

For all objects (except MWC 297), we measure an increase of visibility within the Brγ emission line, indicating that the Brγ-emitting region in these objects is more compact than the dust sublimation radius. For HD 98922, our quantitative analysis reveals that the line-emitting region is compact enough to be consistent with the magnetospheric accretion scenario. For HD 163296, HD 104237, MWC 297, and V921 Sco we identify an extended stellar wind or a disk wind as the most likely line-emitting mechanism. Since the stars in our sample cover a wide range of stellar parameters, we also search for general trends and find that the size of the Brγ-emitting region does not seem to depend on the basic stellar parameters (such as the stellar luminosity), but correlates with spectroscopic properties, in particular with the Hα line profile shape. Conclusions: By performing the first high-resolution spectro-interferometric survey on Herbig Ae/Be stars, we find evidence for at least two distinct Brγ line-formation mechanisms. Most significant, stars with a P-Cygni Hα line profile and a high mass-accretion rate seem to show particularly compact Brγ-emitting regions (R
Brγ/Rcont < 0.2), while stars with a double-peaked or single-peaked Hα-line profile show a significantly more extended Brγ-emitting region (0.6 RBrγ/Rcont 1.4), possibly tracing a stellar wind or a disk wind.

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