The binary system of the spinning-top Be star Achernar

P. Kervella, S. Borgniet, A. Domiciano de Souza, A. Mérand, A. Gallenne, Th. Rivinius, S. Lacour, A. Carciofi, D. Moser Faes, J. -B. Le Bouquin, M. Taormina, B. Pilecki, J. -Ph. Berger, Ph. Bendjoya, R. Klement, F. Millour, E. Janot-Pacheco, A. Spang, F. Vakili

Submitted on 15 September 2022


Achernar, the closest and brightest classical Be star, presents rotational flattening, gravity darkening, occasional emission lines due to a gaseous disk, and an extended polar wind. It is also a member of a close binary system with an early A-type dwarf companion. We aim to determine the orbital parameters of the Achernar system and to estimate the physical properties of the components. We monitored the relative position of Achernar B using a broad range of high angular resolution instruments of the VLT/VLTI (VISIR, NACO, SPHERE, AMBER, PIONIER, GRAVITY, and MATISSE) over a period of 13 years (2006-2019). These astrometric observations are complemented with a series of more than 700 optical spectra for the period from 2003 to 2016. We determine that Achernar B orbits the Be star on a seven-year period, eccentric orbit (e = 0.7255 +/- 0.0014) which brings the two stars within 2 au at periastron. The mass of the Be star is found to be mA = 6.0 +/- 0.6 Msun for a secondary mass of mB = 2.0 +/- 0.1 Msun. We find a good agreement of the parameters of Achernar A with the evolutionary model of a critically rotating star of 6.4 Msun at an age of 63 million years. We also identify a resolved comoving low-mass star, which leads us to propose that Achernar is a member of the Tucana-Horologium moving group. Achernar A is presently in a short-lived phase of its evolution following the turn-off, during which its geometrical flattening ratio is the most extreme. Considering the orbital parameters, no significant interaction occurred between the two components, demonstrating that Be stars may form through a direct, single-star evolution path without mass transfer. Since component A will enter the instability strip in a few hundred thousand years, Achernar appears to be a promising progenitor of the Cepheid binary systems.


Comment: 27 pages, Astronomy & Astrophysics, in press. The full set of continuum normalized high resolution spectra of Achernar is available at

Subject: Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics