An investigation of the close environment of β Cep with the VEGA/CHARA interferometer
by Nardetto et al. 2010, A&A, in press
High-precision interferometric measurements of pulsating stars help to characterize their close environment. In 1974, a close companion was discovered around the pulsating star beta Cep using the speckle interferometry technique and features at the limit of resolution (20 milli-arcsecond or mas) of the instrument were mentioned that may be due to circumstellar material. Beta Cep has a magnetic field that might be responsible for a spherical shell or ring-like structure around the star as described by the MHD models. Using the visible recombiner VEGA installed on the CHARA long-baseline interferometer at Mt. Wilson, we aim to determine the angular diameter of beta Cep and resolve its close environment with a spatial resolution up to 1 mas level. Medium spectral resolution (R=6000) observations of beta Cep were secured with the VEGA instrument over the years 2008 and 2009. These observations were performed with the S1S2 (30m) and W1W2 (100m) baselines of the array. We investigated several models to reproduce our observations. A large-scale structure of a few mas is clearly detected around the star with a typical flux relative contribution of 0.23 +- 0.02. Our best model is a co-rotational geometrical thin ring around the star as predicted by magnetically-confined wind shock models. The ring inner diameter is 8.2 +- 0.8 mas and the width is 0.6 +- 0.7 mas. The orientation of the rotation axis on the plane of the sky is PA = 60 +- 1 deg, while the best fit of the mean angular diameter of beta Cep gives UD[V] = 0.22 +- 0.05 mas. Our data are compatible with the predicted position of the close companion of beta Cep. These results bring additional constraints on the fundamental parameters and on the future MHD and asteroseismological models of the star.