The R Coronae Borealis stars

Geoffrey C. Clayton, University of Colorado Boulder


This year marks the bicentennial of the discovery of the variability of R Coronae Borealis. The R Coronae Borealis (RCB) stars are distinguished from other hydrogen-deficient objects by their spectacular dust-formation episodes. They may decline by up to 8 magnitudes in a few weeks, revealing a rich emission-line spectrum. Their atmospheres have unusual abundances with very little hydrogen and an overabundance of carbon and nitrogen. The RCB stars are thought to be the product of a final helium shell flash or the coalescence of a binary white-dwarf system. Dust may form in non-equilibrium conditions created behind shocks caused by pulsations in the atmospheres of these stars. The RCB stars are interesting and important, first because they represent a rare, or short-lived stage of stellar evolution, and second because these stars regularly produce large amounts of dust so they are laboratories for the study of dust formation and evolution.