We use imaging polarimetry taken with the HST Advanced Camera for Surveys High Resolution Camera to explore the three-dimensional structure of the circumstellar dust distribution around the red supergiant VY Canis Majoris. The polarization vectors of the nebulosity surrounding VY CMa show a strong centrosymmetric pattern in all directions except directly east and range from 10% to 80% in fractional polarization. In regions that are optically thin, and therefore likely to have only single scattering, we use the fractional polarization and photometric color to locate the physical position of the dust along the line of sight. Most of the individual arclike features and clumps seen in the intensity image are also features in the fractional polarization map. These features must be distinct geometric objects. If they were just local density enhancements, the fractional polarization would not change so abruptly at the edge of the feature. The location of these features in the ejecta of VY CMa using polarimetry provides a determination of their three-dimensional geometry independent of, but in close agreement with, the results from our study of their kinematics (Paper I).
- Stars: individual (VY Canis Majoris)
- Stars: mass loss