Be star

Be Stars are a heterogeneous set of stars with B spectral types and emission lines. A narrower definition, sometimes referred to as Classical Be Stars, is a non-supergiant B star whose spectrum has, or had at some time, one or more Balmer emission lines.

Depiction of Achernar, the brightest Be star

Definition and classification

Many stars have B-type spectra and show hydrogen emission lines, including many supergiants, Herbig Ae/Be stars, mass-transferring binary systems, and B[e] stars. It is preferred to restrict usage of the term Be star to non-supergiant stars showing one or more Balmer series lines in emission. These are sometimes referred to as classical Be stars. The emission lines may be present only at certain times.[1]

Although the Be type spectrum is most strongly produced in class B stars, it is also detected in O and A shell stars, and these are sometimes included under the "Be star" banner. Be stars are primarily considered to be main sequence stars, but a number of subgiants and giant stars are also included.[2]


The first star recognized as a Be star was Gamma Cassiopeiae, observed 1866 by Angelo Secchi, the first star ever observed with emission lines.[3] Many other bright stars were found to show similar spectra, although many of these are no longer considered to be classical Be stars.[4] The brightest is Achernar, although it was not recognised as a Be star until 1976.[5][6]


With the understanding of the processes of emission line formation in the early 20th century it became clear that these lines in Be stars must come from circumstellar material ejected from the star helped by the rapid rotation of the star.[7] All the observational characteristics of Be stars can now be explained with a gaseous disk that is formed of material ejected from the star. The infrared excess and the polarization result from the scattering of stellar light in the disk, while the line emission is formed by re-processing stellar ultraviolet light in the gaseous disc.[2]

Shell stars

Some Be stars exhibit spectral features that are interpreted as a detached "shell" of gas surrounding the star, or more accurately a disc or ring. These shell features are thought to be caused when the disc of gas that is present around many Be stars is aligned edge on to us so that it creates very narrow absorption lines in the spectrum.


Be stars are often visually and spectroscopically variable. Be stars can be classified as Gamma Cassiopeiae variables when a transient or variable disk is observed. Be stars that show variability without clear indication of the mechanism are listed simply as BE in the General Catalogue of Variable Stars. Some of these are thought to be pulsating stars and are sometimes called Lambda Eridani variables.


  1. ^ Porter, John M.; Rivinius, Thomas (2003). "Classical Be Stars". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 115 (812): 1153. Bibcode:2003PASP..115.1153P. doi:10.1086/378307.
  2. ^ a b Rivinius, Thomas; Carciofi, Alex C.; Martayan, Christophe (2013). "Classical Be stars". The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review. 21 (1): 69. arXiv:1310.3962. Bibcode:2013A&ARv..21...69R. doi:10.1007/s00159-013-0069-0. ISSN 0935-4956.
  3. ^ Secchi, A. (1867). "Schreiben des Herrn Prof.Secchi, Dir. Der Sternwarte des Collegio Romano, an den Herausgeber". Astronomische Nachrichten. 68 (4): 63–64. Bibcode:1866AN.....68...63S. doi:10.1002/asna.18670680405.
  4. ^ Merrill, P. W.; Humason, M. L.; Burwell, C. G. (1925). "Discovery and Observations of Stars of Class Be". Astrophysical Journal. 61: 389. Bibcode:1925ApJ....61..389M. doi:10.1086/142899.
  5. ^ Snow, T. P.; Marlborough, J. M. (1976). "Evidence for mass loss at moderate to high velocity in Be stars". Astrophysical Journal. 203: L87. Bibcode:1976ApJ...203L..87S. doi:10.1086/182025.
  6. ^ Massa, D. (1975). "The influence of rotation and stellar winds upon the Be phenomenon". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 87: 777. Bibcode:1975PASP...87..777M. doi:10.1086/129842.
  7. ^ Struve, Otto (1931). "On the Origin of Bright Lines in Spectra of Stars of Class B". Astrophysical Journal. 73: 94. Bibcode:1931ApJ....73...94S. doi:10.1086/143298.

Further reading

External links

12 Aurigae

12 Aurigae is a star in the northern constellation Auriga. It lies below the normal limit for visibility to the naked eye, having an apparent visual magnitude of 6.988. It lacks a designation from the Hipparcos catalogue. This is a Be star with a stellar classification of B2 Ve, indicating that the spectrum displays emission lines.

18 Andromedae

18 Andromedae, abbreviated 18 And, is a single star in the northern constellation of Andromeda. 18 Andromedae is the Flamsteed designation. It is visible to the naked eye with an apparent visual magnitude of 5.350. The annual parallax shift of 7.9 mas can be used to estimate a distance of 413 light years. It is moving further from the Earth with a heliocentric radial velocity of +10 km/s.This is a B-type main-sequence star with a stellar classification of B9 Ve, where the 'e' notation indicates this is a Be star. The stellar spectrum of 18 And displays an emission line in the hydrogen Brackett series due to a dense gaseous circumstellar envelope. The star is spinning rapidly with a projected rotational velocity of 183 km/s and has about three times the mass of the Sun. It is radiating 147 times the Sun's luminosity from its photosphere at an effective temperature of 10,351 K.

48 Persei

48 Persei (also known as c Persei, 48 Per, HR 1273, HIP 19343, or HD 25940) is a Be star in the constellation Perseus, approximately the 500th brightest of the visible stars in apparent magnitude. It is "well known for its complex spectrum and for its light and velocity variations". The name "48 Persei" is a Flamsteed designation given to it by John Flamsteed in his catalogue, published in 1712.As a Be star, it is hot and blue, spinning so rapidly that it forms an unstable equatorial disk of matter surrounding it. Its mass has been estimated as seven times that of the Sun, and its estimated age of 40 million years makes it much younger than the Sun. In another few million years it will likely cease hydrogen fusion, expand, and brighten as it becomes a red giant.

59 Cygni

59 Cygni is a multiple star system in the northern constellation of Cygnus, located roughly 1,300 light years away from Earth. It is visible to the naked eye as a blue-white hued star with a combined apparent visual magnitude of 4.74.The primary component and brightest member of this system, designated 59 Cyg Aa, is a rapidly rotating Be star with a stellar classification of B1.5 Vnne. This is a well-studied star thanks to pronounced spectral variations that have been observed since 1916, and two short-term shell star phases that were observed in 1973 and 1974–5. It is actually a confirmed spectroscopic binary system with a high temperature subdwarf O-type companion in a 28-day orbital period. The latter is heating the nearest side of the circumstellar gaseous disk that surrounds the primary.Orbiting the primary pair is 59 Cyg Ab, a magnitude 7.64 A-type main-sequence star of class A3V, located at an angular separation of 0.200″. A fourth component is a magnitude 9.8 A-type giant star of class A8III at a separation of 20.2″ along a position angle (PA) of 352°, as of 2008. The fifth companion is magnitude 11.7 at a separation of 26.7″ and a PA of 141°. Gaia Data Release 2 suggests that the companions at 20.2″ and 26.7″ are respectively 382 pc and 366 pc away and moving in approximately the same direction as the primary triple.

HD 105382

HD 105382 (also known as V863 Centauri) is a star in the constellation Centaurus. Its apparent magnitude is 4.47. From parallax measurements, it is located 130 parsecs (440 light years) from the sun.

HD 105382 is a variable star whose apparent magnitude varies with an amplitude of 0.012 over a period of 1.295 days. It has been previously classified as a Be star, which would explain the variability as stellar pulsations, but this classification was probably due to accidental observation of the nearby Be star δ Centauri. A 2004 study showed that the 1.295 day period is actually the rotation period of the star, and that the variability is caused by non-homogeneous distribution of elements in the stellar surface. In particular, HD 105382 is a helium-weak chemically peculiar star with a helium abundance varying between 0.5% and 15% of the solar abundance, and a silicon abundance varying between 0.00044% and 0.0069% the solar value. Regions with more helium appear to coincide with the regions with less silicon, and vice versa. This peculiar abundance pattern is probably related to HD 105382's magnetic field, which has a polar strength of 2.3 kG.From astrometric measurements by the Hipparcos spacecraft, HD 105382 is identified as a probable astrometric binary. It is only 267" away from δ Centauri, and both stars appear to be at the same distance from Earth and have the same motion through space, so they may be related. In total, this may be a five star system. It is a member of the Lower Centaurus-Crux (LCC) subgroup of the Scorpius–Centaurus Association.

Herbig Ae/Be star

A Herbig Ae/Be star (HAeBe) is a pre-main-sequence star – a young (<10Myr) star of spectral types A or B. These stars are still embedded in gas-dust envelopes and are sometimes accompanied by circumstellar disks. Hydrogen and calcium emission lines are observed in their spectra. They are 2-8 Solar mass (M☉) objects, still existing in the star formation (gravitational contraction) stage and approaching the main sequence (i.e. they are not burning hydrogen in their center). In the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram these stars are located to the right of the main sequence. They are named after the American astronomer George Herbig, who first distinguished them from other stars in 1960.

The original Herbig criteria were:

Spectral type earlier than F0 (in order to exclude T Tauri stars),

Balmer emission lines in the stellar spectrum (in order to be similar to T Tauri stars),

Projected location within the boundaries of a dark interstellar cloud (in order to select really young stars near their birthplaces),

Illumination of a nearby bright reflection nebula (in order to guarantee physical link with star formation region).There are now several known isolated Herbig Ae/Be stars (i.e. not connected with dark clouds or nebulae). Thus the most reliable criteria now can be:

Spectral type earlier than F0,

Balmer emission lines in the stellar spectrum,

Infrared radiation excess (in comparison with normal stars) due to circumstellar dust (in order to distinguish from classical Be stars, which have infrared excess due to free-free emission).Sometimes Herbig Ae/Be stars show significant brightness variability. They are believed to be due to clumps (protoplanets and planetesimals) in the circumstellar disk. In the lowest brightness stage the radiation from the star becomes bluer and linearly polarized (when the clump obscures direct star light, scattered from disk light relatively increases – it is the same effect as the blue color of our sky).

Analogs of Herbig Ae/Be stars in the smaller mass range (<2 M☉) – F, G, K, M spectral type pre-main-sequence stars – are called T Tauri stars. More massive (>8 M☉) stars in pre-main-sequence stage are not observed, because they evolve very quickly: when they become visible (i.e. disperses surrounding circumstellar gas and dust cloud), the hydrogen in the center is already burning and they are main-sequence objects.

KX Andromedae

KX Andromedae (often abbreviated to KX And) is a spectroscopic binary star in the constellation Andromeda. Its apparent visual magnitude varies between 6.88 and 7.28.The primary component of the KX Andromedae system is a Be star with a spectral classification B3pe.The secondary star is difficult to detect in the spectrum, but has been given a K1III spectral type. It is likely to be an asymptotic giant branch star that fills its Roche lobe.The system is only about 25 million years old. The pair complete a circular orbit every 38.919 days at an inclination of 50°.

Lambda Eridani variable

A Lambda Eridani Variable is a class of Be stars that show small amplitude variations of a few hundredths of a magnitude. The variations are highly regular with periods between 0.5 and 2.0 days, and they were initially described as periodic Be stars. Lambda Eridani is an example and the prototype. This has been ascribed to non-radial pulsations, inhomogeneous rotating discs, or the rotation of the star itself.These stars are rarely classified, or are classified incorrectly. The General Catalogue of Variable Stars does not have a type for λ Eridani variables, only GCAS for Gamma Cassiopeiae variables and BE for non-GCAS Be star variables. λ Eridani itself is incorrectly listed as a Beta Cephei variable. The AAVSO International Variable Star Index defines a LERI type of variability, with 16 stars included as λ Eri variables, five of them only suspected, and 13 combined with other types of variation.

MWC 480

MWC 480 is a young star about twice the mass of the Sun located 455 light-years away in the Taurus star-forming region. The name refers to the Mount Wilson Catalog of B and A stars with bright hydrogen lines in their spectra.MWC 480 has X-ray emissions typical of a pre-main-sequence Herbig Ae/Be star but with an order of magnitude more photoelectric absorption. It has a gas-dust envelope and is surrounded by a protoplanetary disc. Astronomers using the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) have found that the protoplanetary disc surrounding MWC 480 contains large amounts of methyl cyanide (CH3CN), a complex carbon-based molecule. Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) has also been detected in the disc. No signs of planet formation have yet been detected.

Messier 18

Messier 18 or M18, also designated NGC 6613, is an open cluster of stars in the constellation Sagittarius. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1764 and included in his list of comet-like objects. From the perspective of Earth, M18 is situated between the Omega Nebula (M17) and the Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24).This is a sparse cluster with a linear diameter of 8.04 pc, a tidal radius of 7.3 pc, and is centrally concentrated with core radius of 0.012 pc. It has a Trumpler class of II 3 p. The cluster is 33 million years old with an estimated mass of 188 M☉. It has one definite Be star and 29 B-type stars in total. There are three supergiant stars, all of class A or earlier. The brightest component (lucida), designated HD 168352, is a B-type giant star with a class of B2 III and a visual magnitude of 8.65.Messier 18 is 1,296 pc from the Earth and 6,830 pc from the Galactic Center. It is orbiting the Milky Way core with a period of 186.5 million years and an eccentricity of 0.02. This carries it to as close as 6.5 kpc to, and as far as 6.8 kpc from the galactic core. It passes vertically through the galactic plane once every 27.4 million years, ranging no more than 80 pc above or below.

NGC 6885

NGC 6885, also Caldwell 37, is an open cluster in the constellation Vulpecula. It shines at magnitude +5.7/+8.1. Its celestial coordinates are RA 20h 12.0m, dec +26° 29′. It surrounds the naked eye Be star 20 Vulpeculae, and is located near M27 (Dumbbell nebula), the nebula IC 4954, and open clusters NGC 6882 and NGC 6940. It is 7'/18' across.

NGC 7160

NGC 7160 is an open cluster in the constellation Cepheus. It was discovered by William Herschel on November 9, 1789. The cluster was also observed by John Herschel on October 7, 1829. It is a poor cluster and with little central concentration, with Trumpler class II3p. It is part of the stellar association Cepheus OB2, located one degree south-southwest of VV Cephei.NGC 7160 is a young cluster, whose age is estimated to be between 10 and 19 million years. The cluster presents no extented infrared emission when observed by Spitzer Space Telescope and Herschel Space Telescope which suggests that the molecular cloud in which it was formed has been removed. NGC 7160 lies within the Cepheus Bubble, an expanding dusty shell with a diameter of about 10 degrees, which corresponds to 120 pc (390 ly) at the distance of NGC 7160. It is bordered by HII regions like IC 1396, in which is located the open cluster Trumpler 37. The total mass of molecular gas in the Cepheus Bubble is estimated to be 105 M☉ based on CO emission mapping. The bubble is believed to have been formed by the stellar wind and photoionisation from OB stars that have exploded as supernovae. Mu Cephei, Nu Cephei, and NGC 7160 may have been companions of those stars. It has been suggested that Lambda Cephei and 68 Cygni are runaway stars from that area.The core radius of the cluster is 0.73 parsec (2.4 light years), while the tidal radius is 5.7 parsecs (18.5 light years) and represents the average outer limit of NGC 7160, beyond which a star is unlikely to remain gravitationally bound to the cluster core.

16 stars, probable members of the cluster, are located within the central part of the cluster, and 71 probable members are located within the angular radius of the cluster. Among the members is EM Cephei (mag 7.03), a variable star whose spectrum switches between B and Be star states. It is suggested it is a Be star with a variable circumstellar disk with mass losses (6±3)×10−11 M☉ per year. One low mass member, with spectral type K4.5 is accreting, suggesting the presence of a protoplanetary disk. It is characterised by very low far-IR flux with a high accretion rate.

Pleione (star)

Pleione (pronounced or ) is a binary star and the seventh-brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45). It has the variable star designation BU Tauri (BU Tau) and the Flamsteed designation 28 Tauri (28 Tau). The star is located approximately 120 parsecs (390 light-years) from the Sun, appearing in the constellation of Taurus. Pleione is located close on the sky to the brighter star Atlas, so is difficult for stargazers to distinguish with the naked eye despite being a fifth magnitude star.

The brighter star of the Pleione binary pair, component A, is a hot type B star 190 times more luminous than the Sun. It is classified as Be star with certain distinguishing traits: periodic phase changes and a complex circumstellar environment composed of two gaseous disks at different angles to each other. The primary star rotates rapidly, close to its breakup velocity, even faster than Achernar. Although some research on the companion star has been performed, stellar characteristics of the orbiting B component are not well known.

Pre-main-sequence star

A pre-main-sequence star (also known as a PMS star and PMS object) is a star in the stage when it has not yet reached the main sequence. Earlier in its life, the object is a protostar that grows by acquiring mass from its surrounding envelope of interstellar dust and gas. After the protostar blows away this envelope, it is optically visible, and appears on the stellar birthline in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. At this point, the star has acquired nearly all of its mass but has not yet started hydrogen burning (i.e. nuclear fusion of hydrogen). The star then contracts, its internal temperature rising until it begins hydrogen burning on the zero age main sequence. This period of contraction is the pre-main sequence stage. An observed PMS object can either be a T Tauri star, if it has fewer than 2 solar masses (M☉), or else a Herbig Ae/Be star, if it has 2 to 8 M☉. Yet more massive stars have no pre-main-sequence stage because they contract too quickly as protostars. By the time they become visible, the hydrogen in their centers is already fusing and they are main-sequence objects.

The energy source of PMS objects is gravitational contraction, as opposed to hydrogen burning in main-sequence stars. In the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, pre-main-sequence stars with more than 0.5 M☉ first move vertically downward along Hayashi tracks, then leftward and horizontally along Henyey tracks, until they finally halt at the main sequence. Pre-main-sequence stars with less than 0.5 M☉ contract vertically along the Hayashi track for their entire evolution.

PMS stars can be differentiated empirically from main-sequence stars by using stellar spectra to measure their surface gravity. A PMS object has a larger radius than a main-sequence star with the same stellar mass and thus has a lower surface gravity. Although they are optically visible, PMS objects are rare relative to those on the main sequence, because their contraction lasts for only 1 percent of the time required for hydrogen fusion. During the early portion of the PMS stage, most stars have circumstellar disks, which are the sites of planet formation.

Protoplanetary disk

A protoplanetary disk is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas and dust surrounding a young newly formed star, a T Tauri star, or Herbig Ae/Be star. The protoplanetary disk may also be considered an accretion disk for the star itself, because gases or other material may be falling from the inner edge of the disk onto the surface of the star. This process should not be confused with the accretion process thought to build up the planets themselves. Externally illuminated photo-evaporating protoplanetary disks are called proplyds.

In July 2018, the first confirmed image of such a disk, containing a nascent exoplanet, named PDS 70b, was reported.

Upsilon Cygni

Upsilon Cygni, Latinized from υ Cygni, is a star in the northern constellation of Cygnus. It is visible to the naked eye, having an apparent visual magnitude of 4.43. Based upon an annual parallax shift of 5.08 mas, it lies at a distance of roughly 640 light years from the Sun.

This is a B-type main sequence star with a stellar classification of B2 Vne. The 'e' suffix indicates this is a Be star, which means it is a rapidly rotating star surrounded by an orbiting gaseous disk. It has a high projected rotational velocity of about 230 km/s, which accounts for the nebulous appearance of its lines as indicated by the 'n' suffix. The emission region of its disk has a radius of 0.20±0.04 AU. The star itself is being viewed generally "pole-on", as ascertained by the lack of absorption features from the disk.Upsilon Cygni holds 9.3 times the mass of the Sun and is 4.7 times the Sun's radius. The rapid rotation is giving the star an oblate shape with an equatorial bulge that is 18% wider than the polar radius. It is radiating 7,305 times the solar luminosity from its outer atmosphere at an effective temperature of 22,000 K.The star shows variations in luminosity, including short term non-radial pulsations with periods of 2.95 and 2.6 per day, as well as random outbursts occurring up to every few years. The latter may be associated with mass-loss episodes. There is suspicion this is a spectroscopic binary, but no companion has been detected via speckle interferometry. Measured variations in radial velocity may be caused by a companion having an orbital period of about 11.4 years.

V1339 Aquilae

V1339 Aquilae, also known as HD 187567, is a Be star in the constellation Aquila. It is around 13 times as massive as the Sun and has 7.7 times its diameter.Its binary nature was discovered by speckle interferometry.

V923 Aquilae

V923 Aquilae is a Be star in the equatorial constellation of Aquila. It is a binary star with a low mass secondary star orbiting at a separation of around 250 times the radius of the Sun. The primary varies with both short term and long term periodicity.

Z Canis Majoris

Z Canis Majoris (Z CMa) is a B-type star in the constellation of Canis Major. It has an average apparent visual magnitude of approximately 9.85, though has brightened by 1-2 magnitudes in irregular outbursts in 1987, 2000, 2004 and 2008.The star is a complex binary system only 300,000 years old with two main components separated by an estimated 100 astronomical units (AU) or 0.1" as seen from Earth. The southeast component is an FU Orionis star (a type of pre-main-sequence star in a phase of very high mass accretion resulting in an accretion disk which dominates the optical spectrum) that is 1300 times as luminous as the Sun, has 3 times its mass and 13 times its diameter and a surface temperature of 10,000 K. The northwest component is a Herbig Ae/Be star that has been calculated to be 12 times as massive as the Sun with 1690 times its diameter, and shining with 2400 times its luminosity, though there is some uncertainty about its properties. It is enveloped in an irregular roughly spherical cocoon of dust that has an inner diameter of 20 and outer diameter of 50 AU. The cocoon has a hole in it through which light shines that covers an angle of 5 to 10 degrees of its circumference. Both stars are surrounded by a large envelope of in-falling material that left over from the original cloud that formed the system. Both stars are emitting jets of material, that of the Herbig Ae/Be star being much larger - up to 11.7 light-years (3.6 parsecs) long.It is unclear whether the most recent (and brightest) brightening in 2008 was due to the Herbig Ae/Be star increasing in luminosity or a hole appearing in the cocoon.

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