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International Observing Campaign:
Photometry and Spectroscopy of P Cygni
(Ernst Pollmann & Thilo Bauer, both ASPA-spectroscopy-group, Germany)

The international observing campaign Photometry and Spectroscopy of P Cyg is a common project of
AAVSO, ASPA and BAV. Launched in November 2008, the project yielded very encouraging results.
Markova [1] and Markova et al. [2] suggested an anti-correlation between the variations of the
equivalent width EW of the Hα line profile and the variations of the photographic V magnitude of the
star P Cyg. The variability of the equivalent width of the Hα line yielded amplitudes of up to 10Ǻ. The
time scale of the variability is found between 40 and 60 days. A continued study of the results found
by Markova is the goal of the project. Before the results of the campaign are presented, some typical
spectroscopically characteristics of P Cyg which can be observed with typical equipment of amateur
astronomers, are to be recalled in memory.

Fig.1: The supergiant stars with more than 50 solar masses are found as LBVs nearly at the Humphrey
Davidson limit in the Hertzsprung-Russel diagram. They present strong variations of their luminosity, color and
spectrum. Due to disequilibrium of gravity and pressure, they become unstable with this age.

Within the range of an absolute stellar magnitude Mv between -7.5 and -9.5, one will find the unusual
supergiant stars within the Herzsprung-Russel-diagram (fig.1). Their masses are assumed as the
biggest known for a certain single star and estimated to more than 50 solar masses. Spectral types of
these stars are given between B and F. These stars are also called luminous blue variables (LBV) with
their prototypes S Dor, η Car und P Cyg. LBVs are passing a very unstable phase and present large
variations of their luminosity, color and details of their spectra. Gravitation and pressure are not found
in equilibrium, which is the reason for the instability. A strong stellar wind will cause a blown outer
shell of gas around the star. LBVs present variations of their luminosity on a wide scale between fast
variations of about 0.01 mag on short time scales (hours) up to slow variations with amplitudes in the
order of 2 mag at a time scale of years. Certain irregular bursts of the luminosity are also found.

Fig. 2: A part of the spectrum obtained for P Cyg is shown. The Spectral range given is about 6500-6700 Ǻ.

The spectra of these stars are enriched with emission lines. The P Cyg line profile is the prototype
(Fig. 2): a broad emission line on top of the continuum with an additional absorption line component,
which is shifted against the emission profile to the blue light. The absorption component is caused by
affluent material at speeds of a few 100 km/s. The immense loss of material caused by this solar wind
is estimated to 10
up to 10
solar masses per year.

Fig. 3: Temporal variations of the equivalent width of the Hα line profile.

The blue shift of the absorption profile is caused by the high velocity of the material emitted from the
stellar surface in direction to the observer. The mean position of the emission line component is
caused by the whole wind blown gas, which is moving in all directions from the center of the star. The
dominant red Hα line at 6563 Å and the line of He at 6678 Å are important spectral features, which
can be studied to obtain typical properties of LBV stars. Figure 3 demonstrates the strong variability of
the Hα emission line profile, since Scuderi et al. [3] obtained first measurments in July, 1988. Our own
monitoring started in May, 1994. In the meanwhile, 8 amateur astronomers contribute to the project.
This is a very good example of international collaboration of observers which reside in Switzerland,
Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Japan. The data collected within 22 years of observation allowed
the first analysis of periodicity (Fig. 4). A period debated earlier was estimated at approximately 1300
days and could be confirmed now with a period of about 1211 days. The period is given by the
maximum of the Fourier data analysis. The phase of the period is shown in the lower graph. The
smaller maxima showing alias periods are caused by sampling effects.

Fig. 4: Periodical analysis of the variations of the Hα line profile.

Our project now includes a collaboration with the American organization AAVSO. Eight observers
now contribute photometric observations. The primary goal now is to continue observations to confirm
the anti-correlation between the photometric variability and the spectroscopic variations suggested by
Markova. In addition further information about the flux of the spectroscopic lines shall be obtained.
The proposed anti-correlation is based on a direct comparison of earlier photometric and spectroscopic
observations (Markova, 2001). If the equivalent width of the Hα line decreases, the stellar brightness
increases and vice versa (Fig. 5).


Fig. 5: A plot of the photometric V magnitude versus the equivalent width of the Hα according to Markova [2].
A anti-correlation is found from the graph.

It is assumed, that the variability of the width of the line profiles more likely are caused by the
variations of the continuum flux and not caused by variations of the density of the stellar winds.
Therefore, the influence of the variability of the continuum flux shall be regarded preferably, if the
properties of the stellar winds and rate of mass loss are studied. So far, our own results (fig.6)
represents and confirms well the anti-correlation from the results of Markova. Strict anti-correlation is
expected, if the variation of the flux of the continuum is independent from spectroscopic variations. If
the photometric flux of the spectral line would be constant over time, an increase of the flux of the
continuum will yield a smaller flux from the evaluation of the equivalent width found in the line
profiles. A simple normalization of the continuum is a typical source of the problem.

Fig. 6: Anti-correlation found from our own campaign and observations since November, 2008.
The results are found in good accordance with the results of Markova.

To find out, whether and how the flux obtained from the spectral line profiles varies, the measure of
the equivalent width will be corrected for the effect mentioned in the previous section. From the
definitions of the equivalent width EW, the flux F of the spectral line and the photometric stellar
magnitude V
the relation yields F = EW / 10
0.4 Vphot
. Within the practical application, EW is
corrected with a simple division by 10
0.4 Vphot
. It is important to consider the absolute flux of the line,
because its variabilities are caused by and include details about the mass loss, the density of the stellar
wind and changes of the ionization of the chemical elements in the outer gas shell.

Fig. 7: Plotted relation between flux of the line and the V magnitude. The relation is found
uncorrelated in the order of 0.14.

Within the current campaign we already obtained 45 nearly simultaneous measures of the equivalent
width EW and the photometric flux V in the visual spectral range. Figure 7 demonstrates the
correlation between both, the spectral line variations and the photometric flux in V. A correlation
coefficient of 0.14 was computed for both variables, which indicates both variabilities are independent
from each other. The temporal variation of the absolute line flux of Hα is found at a nearly constant
level with a certain deviation (Fig. 8). This kind of figure will represent changes of the mass loss,
density of the stellar wind and changes of the ionization. The current 45 measures of EW and V
obtained so far are not taken representative to come to a certain conclusion about the statistics of the
temporal variability of the photometric magnitude and line flux. Further simultaneous spectroscopic
measures and precise photometry over years are needed.

Fig. 8: Intrinsic flux of the Hα line since November 2008 until today.

According to Markova (2001), the stellar wind of P Cyg is assumed to provide a certain optical
opacity to create a permanent pseudo photosphere. Therefore, the observed change of the visual
magnitude in the order of 0.2 magnitudes is suggested to be caused by the variability of the mass loss
rate. The rate of mass loss should be also found also with the blue shifted part of the absorption line
profile. On the other hand, this part of the line profile is filled up and saturated with the Hα line. Even
a strong mass loss is assumed not to show much variability. Because of the density of the stellar wind
one will not find a static photosphere. Therefore, the blue shifted absorption of the He line is more
sensitive against mass loss because of a smaller optical depth. The equivalent width of Hα represents
the total mass of the stellar shell, while the HeI line at 6678 Å represents the mass in front of the star,
as seen from the location of the observer. Figure 9 will show the equivalent width of the HeI line at
6678Å as an indicator of mass loss. Monitoring of the He line started in April, 2003. It shows a strong
variability which possibly is caused by the variation of the mass loss rate. However, the equivalent
width of the He line is hard to determine and includes errors in the order of 10 percent. Furthermore,
the absorption line profile also depends on other physical parameters like temperature and ionisation
of the stellar wind.

Fig. 9: Temporal variations of the equivalent width of HeI 6678 absorption line profile.

Perhaps it is interesting to note, that some supermassive stars have been shown to be multiple star
formations by Weigelt & Ebersberger [4] like it is the case with η Car, or HD 32228 by Bauer et al.
[5]. Possible causes of regular or irregular photometric variations are not only the variations of the
single star bursts due to disequilibrium and stellar activity. There are additional possible effects of
interference like companion stars or occultations from rotating material like dark clouds, or bright
nodes in the outer shell, emitted material of the star itself. Thus, it might be also a good idea to extend
photometric observations to multi-color stellar photometry to study the variability in more than one
color band.

[1] Markova, N.; P Cygni 2000, 400 Years of Progress; ASP Conference Series, Vol. 233, 2001

[2] Markova, N; Morrison, N; Kolka, I; Markov, H; (2001) A&A 376, 898-906

[3] Scuderi et al., The Astrophysical Journal, 437, 465-475, 1994

[4] Weigelt, G., Ebersberger. J. 1986, A&A, 163, L5

[5] Bauer, T.; Weghorn, H.; Grebel, E. K.; Bomans, D. J., 1996, A&A, 305, pp.135


The authors thank the following project partners for supply of spectra and measuring data:

): Spectroscopy-group (Hα-EW)
Adrian Ormsby Mitsugu Fuji (Japan)
Robert E. Crumrine Benjamin Mauclaire (France)
Jim Fox Joan Gurro (Spain)
Kate Hutton Bernd Hanisch (Germany)
Nick Stoikidis Lothar Schanne (Germany)
David Williams
E. G. Williams
Charles L. Calia
Thomas L. Peairs
Jeffery G. Horne