AAVSO: American Association of Variable Star Observers

What Are the R Coronae Borealis Stars?

Volume 40 number 1 (2012)

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Geoffrey C. Clayton
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803; gclayton@fenway.phys.lsu.edu

Abstract

The R Coronae Borealis (RCB) stars are rare hydrogen-deficient, carbon-rich, supergiants, best known for their spectacular declines in brightness at irregular intervals. Efforts to discover more RCB stars have more than doubled the number known in the last few years and they appear to be members of an old, bulge population. Two evolutionary scenarios have been suggested for producing an RCB star, a double degenerate merger of two white dwarfs, or a final helium shell flash in a planetary nebula central star. The evidence pointing toward one or the other is somewhat contradictory, but the discovery that RCB stars have large amounts of O^18 has tilted the scales towards the merger scenario. If the RCB stars are the product of white dwarf mergers, this would be a very exciting result since RCB stars would then be low-mass analogs of type Ia supernovae. The predicted number of RCB stars in the Galaxy is consistent with the predicted number of He/CO WD mergers. But, so far, only about sixty-five of the predicted 5,000 RCB stars in the Galaxy have been discovered. The mystery has yet to be solved.