Circumstellar 12C/13C isotope ratios from millimeter observations of CN and CO: Mixing in carbon- and oxygen-rich stars

S. N. Milam, N. J. Woolf, L. M. Ziurys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


A survey of the 12C/13C ratio toward circumstellar envelopes has been conducted at millimeter wavelengths using the facilities of the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO). The ratios were obtained for a sample of local C- and O-rich asymptotic giant branch and supergiant stars from observations of the 12C and 13C isotopologues of CO and CN, respectively. The J = 1 → 0 transitions of both molecules were observed at λ = 3 mm using the ARO 12 m telescope, while the J = 2 → 1 lines of the two species were measured using the ARO Sub-Millimeter Telescope (SMT) at λ = 1 mm. The 12C/13C ratios were determined from the CO data by modeling both transitions simultaneously with a circumstellar radiative transfer code, which can account for the high opacities present in the emission from this species. In the case of CN, the hyperfine structure was used to evaluate opacity effects. Ratios obtained independently from CO and CN are in good agreement. For the C-rich envelopes, the ratios fall in the range 12C/13C 25-90, while the O-rich shells have values of 10-35. Ratios of 12C/13C 3-14 are found for the supergiant stars, with the exception of VY CMa, where the values lie in the range 25-46. All ratios obtained in this study are ≤ 89, the solar value, suggesting that substantial carbon-13 enrichment may be currently occurring in the local interstellar medium. A qualitative model was constructed based on first and third dredge-up convective mixing that can reproduce the observed ratios. Substantial mixing of H-burning products must occur to explain the ratios in the O-rich objects, while a wide range of 12C/ 13C values can be generated by only a few percent mixing of He-burning ashes in the C-rich case. The 12C/13C ratios obtained in this study should help improve stellar yield models and contribute to the understanding of Galactic chemical evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)837-849
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Astrobiology
  • Astrochemistry
  • Line: profiles
  • Nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • Radio lines: stars
  • Stars: AGB and post-AGB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Circumstellar 12C/13C isotope ratios from millimeter observations of CN and CO: Mixing in carbon- and oxygen-rich stars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this