Monday, March 18, 2019

Mapping Stars with PEPSI

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a so-called Zeeman-Doppler-Image (ZDI) of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi. 

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes and interferometers. This technique, referred to as Doppler imaging (DI) or Doppler tomography, requires a high-resolution spectrograph, usually a large telescope, lots of observing time, and nifty analysis software.

But PEPSI can go a major step further. Because its two polarimeters also feed polarized light to the spectrograph, PEPSI captures the otherwise hidden profile deformation due to the Zeeman-effect. (splitting and polarization of spectral lines due to an external magnetic field). Combined with the rotational Doppler-effect it allows the reconstruction of the star’s surface magnetic field geometry. 

Stellar environment of the star II Pegasi. Shown is the magnetic-field extrapolation out to 2.2 stellar radii. Open field lines are depicted in colour (magenta: negative polarity, green: positive polarity, closed loops are in white.) Credit: AIP