AAS 204th Meeting, June 2004
Session 7 A Walk Through the HR Diagram
Poster, Monday, May 31, 2004, 9:20am-6:30pm, Ballroom

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[7.11] Unexpected Behavior of Hydrogen Emission Lines during Eta Carinae's Spectroscopic Event in 2003

K. Davidson, J. Martin (Univ. of Minnesota), Eta Car HST Treasury Project Team

Eta Carinae experiences puzzling ``spectroscopic events'' with a recurrence time of 5.54 years, the last two having occurred near 1997.9 and 2003.5. As part of a Hubble Treasury Project, we obtained HST/STIS data on 10 occasions during 2003. We find that H-alpha and H-beta, the brightest observable emission lines produced in the dense stellar wind, seriously differed from their appearance observed during the previous event. Evidently the 5.5-year cycle is not entirely ``clocklike.''

The altered line profile gives information about the geometrical structure of the radiation field and mass outflow during the spectroscopic event. Since the 2003 line profiles appeared quite different from 1998 and had a suggestive shape, while the star's apparent brightness meanwhile increased by an extraordinary amount, we conjecture that Eta Car's exterior parameters are currently changing more rapidly than usual. This may conceivably mark a critical stage of thermal and/or rotational recovery following the star's 19th-century ``Supernova Impostor'' Eruption.

The Treasury Project for \eta Car is supported by a grant from STScI, which is supported by NASA.

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The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: kd@astro.umn.edu

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