Polarization in stars was first predicted by Chandrasekhar1, who calculated a substantial linear polarization at the stellar limb for a pure electron-scattering atmosphere. This polarization will average to zero when integrated over a spherical star but could be detected if the symmetry was broken, for example, by the eclipse of a binary companion. Nearly 50 years ago, Harrington and Collins2 modelled another way of breaking the symmetry and producing net polarization—the distortion of a rapidly rotating hot star. Here we report the first detection of this effect. Observations of the linear polarization of Regulus, with two different high-precision polarimeters, range from +42 ppm at a wavelength of 741 nm to -22 ppm at 395 nm. The reversal from red to blue is a distinctive feature of rotation-induced polarization. Using a new set of models for the polarization of rapidly rotating stars, we find that Regulus is rotating at 96.5-0.8+0.6% of its critical angular velocity for break-up, and has an inclination greater than 76.5°. The rotation axis of the star is at a position angle of 79.5 ± 0.7°. The conclusions are independent of, but in good agreement with, the results of previously published interferometric observations of Regulus3. The accurate measurement of rotation in early-type stars is important for understanding their stellar environments4 and the course of their evolution5.
- Pub Date:
- September 2017
- Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics
- This is the full published article including the Methods and Supplementary Information sections: 33 pages, 10 figures, 8 tables