We reconstruct the evolution of η Car in the last two centuries under the assumption that the two 19th century eruptions were triggered by periastron passages and through this reconstruction constrain the binary parameters. The beginning of the lesser eruption (LE) at the end of the 19th century occurred when the system was very close to periastron passage, suggesting that the secondary triggered the LE. We assume that the 1838-1858 great eruption (GE) was triggered by a periastron passage as well. We also assume that mass transferred from the primary to the secondary star accounts for the extra energy of the GE. With these assumptions we constrain the total mass of the binary system to be M = M1 + M2 ≳ 250M⊙. These higher than commonly used masses better match the observed luminosity with stellar evolutionary tracks. Including mass loss by the two stars and mass transfer from the primary to the secondary we obtain a good match of periastron passages to the two peaks in the light curve of the GE. Based on these findings and a similar behavior of P Cygni, we speculate that major luminous blue variable eruptions are triggered by stellar companions and that in extreme cases a short duration event with a huge mass transfer rate can lead to a bright transient event on timescales of weeks to months (a "supernova impostor").
- Color figures
- General - stars
- Individual (eta Car) - stars
- Mass-loss - stars
- Outflows -Online-only material