VLTI observations of the tertiary component in the massive multiple system Herschel 36

Sanchez-Bermudez, J.; Alberdi, A.; Schödel, R.; Hummel, C. A.; Arias, J. I.; Barbá, R. H.; Maíz Apellániz, J.; Pott, J.-U.
Astronomy & Astrophysics, Volume 572, id.L1, 4 pp. (2014).


Context: Massive stars are extremely important for the chemical evolution of the galaxies; however there are large gaps in our understanding of their properties and formation, mainly because they evolve rapidly, are rare and distant. Recent findings suggest that most O-stars belong to multiple systems. It may well be that almost all massive stars are born as triples or higher multiples, but their large distances require very high angular resolution for a direct detection of the companions at milliarcsecond scales. Aims: Herschel 36 is a young massive system located at 1.3 kpc. It has a combined minimum predicted mass of 45.2 M_sun. Multi-epoch spectroscopic data suggest the existence of three components gravitationally bound. Two of them, system B, are tightly bound in a spectroscopic binary and the third one, component A, orbiting in a wide orbit. Our aim was to image and obtain astrometric and photometric measurements of the component A using, for the first time, long-baseline optical interferometry to further constrain its nature. Methods: We observed Herschel 36 with the near-infrared instrument AMBER attached to the ESO VLT Interferometer, which pro- vides an angular resolution of 2 mas. To perform the interferometric image reconstruction, we used BSMEM. The model fitting to the interferometric observables was done via proprietary routines and LitPro. Results: We imaged the A+B components of Herschel 36 in H and K filters. Component A is located at a projected distance of 1.81 mas, at a position angle of 222 deg. East of North, the flux ratio between components A and B is close to one. The small measured angular separation indicates that the tertiary may be approaching the periastron of its orbit. These results, only achievable with long-baseline near-infrared interferometry, constitute the first step toward a thorough understanding of this massive triple system.