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To Binary Or Not To Binary: Investigating The Curious Nature Of WR 6

Although researchers have been studying Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars for decades, some mysteries remain about their nature and evolution. WR 6 is a shining example of how much there still is to learn about these massive stars. Though this object has been studied for nearly 60 years, scientists have been unable to definitively pin down one of the most basic aspects of its nature – how many stars make up the object we call WR 6. Ordinarily, this would be relatively simple to understand by looking at the light curve of the object and how evolves over time. WR 6 is unique in that it behaves like a typical WR binary system for about 14 days, and then its behavior shifts into something researchers haven’t been able to fully explain yet. My project focuses on examining those peculiar light curves using a technique called spectropolarimetry. WR stars are known for their active stellar winds, which are clouds of gas and dust that swirl around the surface causing the light to scatter in different directions. By measuring and mapping that scattering, which we call polarization, as well as the spectral data present, we can form a picture of what the surface region of WR 6 looks like and is made up of. Pinning down the surface nature and composition is the key to determining not only how many stars make up this object, but how they behave and what will become of them.