The Ionized Nebula surrounding the Red Supergiant W26 in Westerlund 1

Nicholas J. Wright, Roger Wesson, Janet E. Drew, Geert Barentsen, Michael J. Barlow, Jeremy R. Walsh, Albert Zijlstra, Jeremy J. Drake, Jochen Eisloffel, Hywel J. Farnhill

University of Hertfordshire

We present Halpha images of an ionized nebula surrounding the M2-5Ia red supergiant (RSG) W26 in the massive star cluster Westerlund 1. The nebula consists of a circumstellar shell or ring ~0.1pc in diameter and a triangular nebula ~0.2pc from the star that in high-resolution Hubble Space Telescope images shows a complex filamentary structure. The excitation mechanism of both regions is unclear since RSGs are too cool to produce ionizing photons and we consider various possibilities. The presence of the nebula, high stellar luminosity and spectral variability suggest that W26 is a highly evolved RSG experiencing extreme levels of mass-loss. As the only known example of an ionized nebula surrounding a RSG W26 deserves further attention to improve our understanding of the final evolutionary stages of massive stars.

Reference: MNRAS, in press
Status: Manuscript has been accepted