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Two’s company, three’s a crowd: SALT reveals the likely triple nature of the nucleus of the extreme abundance discrepancy factor planetary nebula Sp 3

  • Brent Miszalski (a1) (a2), Rajeev Manick (a1), Thomas Rauch (a3), Krystian Iłkiewicz (a4), Hans Van Winckel (a5) and Joanna Mikołajewska (a4)...


The substantial number of binary central stars of planetary nebulae (CSPNe) now known ( $\sim 50$ ) has revealed a strong connection between binarity and some morphological features including jets and low-ionisation structures. However, some morphological features and asymmetries might be too complex or subtle to ascribe to binary interactions alone. In these cases, a tertiary component, that is, a triple nucleus, could be the missing ingredient required to produce these features. The only proven triple, NGC 246, is alone insufficient to investigate the shaping role of triple nuclei, but one straightforward way to identify more triples is to search for binaries in nuclei with known visual companions. Here we demonstrate this approach with the SALT HRS (High Resolution Spectrograph on the Southern African Large Telescope) discovery of a 4.81-d orbital period in the CSPN of Sp 3 which has a visual companion 0.31 arcsec away. The spectroscopic distance of the visual companion is in agreement with distance estimates to the nebula, the Gaia DR2 parallax of the central star, and the gravity distance of the central star. This supports a physical association between the visual companion and the inner 4.81 d binary, making the nucleus of Sp 3 a likely triple. We determine $T_\mathrm{eff}=68^{+12}_{-6}\ \text{kK},\ \log g=4.6\pm0.2\ \text{cm s}^{-2}$ , and $v_\mathrm{rot}=80\pm20\ \text{km s}^{-1}$ for the primary from non-local thermodynamic equilibrium model atmosphere analysis. The peculiar nebula presents an apparent bipolar morphology, jets, and an unexpected ‘extreme’ oxygen abundance discrepancy factor (adf) of $24.6^{+4.1}_{-3.4}$ . The adf is inconsistent with the purported trend for longer orbital period post-common-envelope (CE) PNe to exhibit normal adfs, further highlighting the dominant influence of selection effects in post-CE PNe. Lastly, the Type I nebular abundances of Sp 3, whose origin is often attributed to more massive progenitors, are incongruous with the likely Galactic Thick Disk membership of Sp 3, possibly suggesting that rotation and binarity may play an important role in influencing the AGB nucleosynthesis of PNe.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Brent Miszalski, Email:


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Based on observations made with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) under programmes 2012-1-RSA_OTH_010, 2016-2-SCI-034, and 2017-1-MLT-010.



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Two’s company, three’s a crowd: SALT reveals the likely triple nature of the nucleus of the extreme abundance discrepancy factor planetary nebula Sp 3

  • Brent Miszalski (a1) (a2), Rajeev Manick (a1), Thomas Rauch (a3), Krystian Iłkiewicz (a4), Hans Van Winckel (a5) and Joanna Mikołajewska (a4)...


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