Mid-cycle changes in eta Carinae

John C. Martin, Kris Davidson, Roberta M Humphreys, Andrea Mehner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In late 2006, ground-based photometry of η Car plus the Homunculus showed an unexpected decrease in its integrated apparent brightness, an apparent reversal of its long-term brightening. Subsequent Hubble Space Telescope (HST)/WFPC2 photometry of the central star in the near-UV showed that this was not a simple reversal. This multi-wavelength photometry did not support increased extinction by dust as the explanation for the decrease in brightness. A spectrum obtained with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph on the Gemini-South telescope revealed subtle changes mid-way in η Car's 5.5 yr spectroscopic cycle when compared with HST/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) spectra at the same phase in the cycle. At mid-cycle the secondary star is 20-30 AU from the primary. We suggest that the spectroscopic changes are consistent with fluctuations in the density and velocity of the primary star's wind, unrelated to the 5.5 yr cycle but possibly related to its latitude-dependent morphology. We also discuss subtle effects that must be taken into account when comparing ground-based and HST/STIS spectra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2056-2065
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


  • Line: profiles
  • Stars: individual (eta Carinae)
  • Stars: variables: general
  • Stars: winds, outflows


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