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Physics  2000 

High resolution near-infrared polarimetry of Eta Carinae and the Homunculus Nebula

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High resolution near-infrared adaptive optics imaging and polarimetry have been obtained of the Homunculus Nebula and its central star Eta Carinae (HD 93308). Maps of the linear polarization at a resolution of <0.2'' have been made in the J, H and K bands and in a narrow 2.15micron continuum band (K_c). The overall appearance of the nebula in the near-IR is similar in all bands and to that at V, with specific features less sharp to longer wavelengths. The large-scale pattern of polarization vectors is centro-symmetric demonstrating that single scattering dominates everywhere except perhaps in the central bright core. Polarization maps at K_c in the near vicinity of Eta Carinae were restored using a PSF derived from blind deconvolution. An extension of the flux in the direction of the optically visible speckle knots was detected, with 18% polarization determined for one knot. The most remarkable result of the linear polarization mapping is the level of similarity in the spatial structure, and the degree of polarization, between the near-IR and optical data. Such a polarization pattern cannot arise in Mie scattering from a single power law distribution of grain sizes unless the particles are very small compared with the wavelength, in disagreement with mid-IR observations. The colour dependence of the extinction was found to be shallower than the typical ISM, indicating the presence of large grains. Optical depth effects and a broad distribution in grain sizes are suggested to explain these contradictory results, perhaps with a dependence of the grain size with depth into the small obscuring clouds in the Homunculus lobes. However the presence of aligned grains, previously inferred from mid-IR polarization, may also affect the dust-scattered radiation. (Abridged abstract)


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