Eclipsing Binaries as Astrophysical Laboratories and the Strange Case of Epsilon Aurigae

  • Edward F. Guinan
  • Sean M. Carroll
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (ASIC, volume 319)


Eclipsing binaries are well known for providing the bulk of accurate data on stellar masses and radii. However, important as these quantities are to stellar physics and evolution, there are several classes of eclipsing binaries whose orbital and physical properties are well suited for them to serve as astrophysical laboratories for the study of a wide range of problems. These binaries provide fundamental information about stellar interiors, atmospheres and evolution that can be obtained in no other way. Also, accurate determinations of helium abundances can be obtained from some well suited eclipsing systems. Moreover, in some cases, eclipsing binaries with eccentric orbits and well defined physical properties can even provide tests of current theories of gravity.

The major part of this paper deals with the enigmatic eclipsing binary ε Aurigae. The results from modeling of the light variations during the last eclipse in 1982–1984 are discussed. This analysis indicates that the dark companion to the F supergiant is a large, thin disk of varying opacity that consists chiefly of cool gas and dust. The outer dimension of the disk is about 9 AU, nearly the size of Saturn’s orbit. In addition, the central region of the disk, within ~ 1 AU, is essentially free of absorbing material. The properties of the disk are similar to those inferred for protoplanetary disks found around young stars. On the other hand Eggleton and Pringle suggest that ε Aurigae is a poet-asymptotic giant branch (AGB) system. In this case, the F0 supergiant is not a normal, massive star but a low mass (~ 1–2 M) object that has evolved through the AGB phase of stellar evolution. In this scenario, the disk was produced by gas accreted from the last pulse episode of the AGB star a few thousand years ago. If this is correct, the supergiant is now caught in an extremely rare stage of stellar evolution in which it is a proto-planetary nebula(PPN) object, soon to become a white dwarf. The advantages and disadvantages of the protoplanetary disk model and the PPN model for explaining the properties of ε Aurigae are discussed.


White Dwarf Stellar Evolution Protoplanetary Disk Roche Lobe Asymptotic Giant Branch 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward F. Guinan
    • 1
  • Sean M. Carroll
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept of Astronomy and AstrophysicsVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  2. 2.Harvard-Smithsonian Center for AstrophysicsCambridgeUSA

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