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See detailFirst Orbital Solution for the Non-thermal Emitter Cyg OB2 No. 9
Nazé, Yaël ULg; Damerdji, Yassine ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2010), 719

After the first detection of its binary nature, the spectroscopic monitoring of the non-thermal radio emitter Cyg OB2 No. 9 (P = 2.4 yr) has continued, doubling the number of available spectra of the star ... [more ▼]

After the first detection of its binary nature, the spectroscopic monitoring of the non-thermal radio emitter Cyg OB2 No. 9 (P = 2.4 yr) has continued, doubling the number of available spectra of the star. Since the discovery paper of 2008, a second periastron passage has occurred in 2009 February. Using a variety of techniques, the radial velocities could be estimated and a first, preliminary orbital solution was derived from the He I 5876 line. The mass ratio appears close to unity and the eccentricity is large, i.e., 0.7-0.75. X-ray data from 2004 and 2007 are also analyzed in quest of peculiarities linked to binarity. The observations reveal neither large overluminosity nor strong hardness, but it must be noted that the high-energy data were taken after the periastron passage, at a time where colliding wind emission may be low. Some unusual X-ray variability is however detected, with a 10% flux decrease between 2004 and 2007. To clarify their origin and find a more obvious signature of the wind-wind collision, additional data, taken at periastron and close to it, are needed. Based on observations collected at the Haute-Provence Observatory and with XMM-Newton, an ESA Science Mission with instruments and contributions directly funded by ESA Member States and the USA (NASA). [less ▲]

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See detailMULTIWAVELENGTH OBSERVATIONS OF THE RUNAWAY BINARY HD 15137
McSwain, M. V.; De Becker, Michaël ULg; Roberts, M. S. E. et al

in Astronomical Journal (The) (2010), 139

HD 15137 is an intriguing runaway O-type binary system that offers a rare opportunity to explore the mechanism by which it was ejected from the open cluster of its birth. Here, we present recent blue ... [more ▼]

HD 15137 is an intriguing runaway O-type binary system that offers a rare opportunity to explore the mechanism by which it was ejected from the open cluster of its birth. Here, we present recent blue optical spectra of HD 15137 and derive a new orbital solution for the spectroscopic binary and physical parameters of the O star primary. We also present the first XMM-Newton observations of the system. Fits of the EPIC spectra indicate soft, thermal X-ray emission consistent with an isolated O star. Upper limits on the undetected hard X-ray emission place limits on the emission from a proposed compact companion in the system, and we rule out a quiescent neutron star (NS) in the propeller regime or a weakly accreting NS. An unevolved secondary companion is also not detected in our optical spectra of the binary, and it is difficult to conclude that a gravitational interaction could have ejected this runaway binary with a low mass optical star. HD 15137 may contain an elusive NS in the ejector regime or a quiescent black hole with conditions unfavorable for accretion at the time of our observations. [less ▲]

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See detailA photometric and spectroscopic investigation of star formation in the very young open cluster NGC 6383
Rauw, Grégor ULg; Manfroid, Jean ULg; De Becker, Michaël ULg

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2010), 511

Context. The very young open cluster NGC 6383 centered on the O-star binary HD 159176 is an interesting place for studying the impact of early-type stars with strong radiation fields and powerful winds on ... [more ▼]

Context. The very young open cluster NGC 6383 centered on the O-star binary HD 159176 is an interesting place for studying the impact of early-type stars with strong radiation fields and powerful winds on the formation processes of low-mass stars. <BR /> Aims: To investigate this process, it is necessary to determine the characteristics (age, presence, or absence of circumstellar material) of the population of low-mass pre-main-sequence (PMS) stars in the cluster. <BR /> Methods: We obtained deep UBV(RI)[SUB]c[/SUB] Hα photometric data of the entire cluster as well as medium-resolution optical spectroscopy of a subsample of X-ray selected objects. <BR /> Results: Our spectroscopic data reveal only very weak Hα emission lines in a few X-ray selected PMS candidates. We photometrically identify a number of Hα emission candidates but their cluster membership is uncertain. We find that the fainter objects in the field of view have a wide range of extinction (up to A[SUB]V[/SUB] = 20), one X-ray selected OB star having A[SUB]V[/SUB] â 8. <BR /> Conclusions: Our investigation uncovers a population of PMS stars in NGC 6383 that are probably coeval with HD 159176. In addition, we detect a population of reddened objects that are probably located at different depths within the natal molecular cloud of the cluster. Finally, we identify a rather complex spatial distribution of Hα emitters, which is probably indicative of a severe contamination by foreground and background stars. Based on observations collected at the European Southern Observatory (ESO, La Silla, Chile).Table 2 is only available in electronic form at the CDS via anonymous ftp cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (130.79.128.5) or via <A href="http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/cgi-bin/qcat?J/A+A/511/A25">http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/cgi-bin/qcat?J/A+A/511/A25</A> [less ▲]

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See detailLong baseline interferometry: a promising tool for multiplicity investigations of massive stars
De Becker, Michaël ULg

in Revista Mexicana de Astronomía y Astrofísica (2010, February), 38

Massive binaries are crucial laboratories that allow us to investigate processes occurring in quite extreme conditions, such as particle acceleration, high-energy emission, or even dust formation. All ... [more ▼]

Massive binaries are crucial laboratories that allow us to investigate processes occurring in quite extreme conditions, such as particle acceleration, high-energy emission, or even dust formation. All these processes are intimately dependent on binarity. Our understanding of the underlying physics strongly requires preliminary multiplicity studies likely to uncover still undetected binaries, and determine their orbital parameters. However, classical spectroscopic approaches sometimes fail to provide a solution to this issue. Long baseline interferometry turns out to be a promising complementary technique to address the question of the multiplicity of massive stars. A campaign has been initiated with the VLTI to take benefit of this technique. [less ▲]

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See detailProspects for the study of dust making Wolf-Rayet binaries with the VLTI-Spectro-Imager (VSI)
De Becker, Michaël ULg; Filho, M.; Harries, T.

in Revista Mexicana de Astronomía y Astrofísica (2010, February), 38

In response to ESO's call for proposals for second generation instruments for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), a consortium has proposed to design and develop the VLTI-Spectro-Imager (VSI ... [more ▼]

In response to ESO's call for proposals for second generation instruments for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), a consortium has proposed to design and develop the VLTI-Spectro-Imager (VSI). In the context of the Phase A study, a science group has prepared a science case taking advantage of the expected performances of VSI. Among several science topics, the case of dust making Wolf-Rayet binaries producing the so-called pinwheel nebulae has been considered. Here, we review the main specifications of VSI, and we provide preliminary results expected to illustrate the imaging capabilities of VSI, and the interest for the study of pinwheel nebulae similar to those formed close to well-known systems such as WR98a and WR104. [less ▲]

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See detailA New Investigation of the Binary HD 48099
Mahy, Laurent ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg; Martins, F. et al

in Astrophysical Journal (2010), 708

With an orbital period of about 3.078 days, the double-lined spectroscopic binary HD 48099 is, until now, the only short-period O+O system known in the Mon OB2 association. Even though an orbital solution ... [more ▼]

With an orbital period of about 3.078 days, the double-lined spectroscopic binary HD 48099 is, until now, the only short-period O+O system known in the Mon OB2 association. Even though an orbital solution has already been derived for this system, few information are available about the individual stars. We present, in this paper, the results of a long-term spectroscopic campaign. We derive a new orbital solution and apply a disentangling method to recover the mean spectrum of each star. To improve our knowledge concerning both components, we determine their spectral classifications and their projected rotational velocities. We also constrain the main stellar parameters of both stars by using the CMFGEN atmosphere code and provide the wind properties for the primary star through the study of International Ultraviolet Explorer spectra. This investigation reveals that HD 48099 is an O5.5 V ((f)) + O9 V binary with M [SUB]1[/SUB]sin[SUP]3[/SUP] i = 0.70 M [SUB]sun[/SUB] and M [SUB]2[/SUB]sin[SUP]3[/SUP] i = 0.39 M [SUB]sun[/SUB], implying a rather low orbital inclination. This result, combined with both a large effective temperature and log g, suggests that the primary star (vsin i sime 91 km s[SUP]â 1[/SUP]) is actually a fast rotator with a strongly clumped wind and a nitrogen abundance of about 8 times the solar value. [less ▲]

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See detailSpectroscopic study of the O-type runaway supergiant HD 195592
De Becker, Michaël ULg; Linder, Natacha ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg

in New Astronomy (2010), 15

The scope of this paper is to perform a detailed spectroscopic study of the northern O-type supergiant HD195592. We use a large sample of high quality spectra in order to investigate its multiplicity, and ... [more ▼]

The scope of this paper is to perform a detailed spectroscopic study of the northern O-type supergiant HD195592. We use a large sample of high quality spectra in order to investigate its multiplicity, and to probe the line profile variability. Our analysis reveals a clear spectroscopic binary signature in the profile of the He i λ 6678 line, pointing to a probable O + B system. We report on low amplitude radial velocity variations in every strong absorption line in the blue spectrum of HD 195592. These variations are ruled by two time-scales respectively of 5.063 and about 20 days. The former is firmly established, whilst the latter is poorly constrained. We report also on a very significant line profile variability of the H β line, with time scales strongly related to those of the radial velocities. Our results provide significant evidence that HD 195592 is a binary system, with a period that might be the variability time-scale of about 5 days. The second time scale may be the signature of an additional star moving along a wider orbit provided its mass is low enough, even though direct evidence for the presence of a third star is still lacking. Alternatively, the second time-scale may be the signature of a variability intrinsic to the stellar wind of the primary, potentially related to the stellar rotation. [less ▲]

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See detailSpectroscopic Study of the Variability of Three Northern Of+ Supergiants
De Becker, Michaël ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg; Linder, N.

in Astrophysical Journal (2009), 704

The transition from early Of stars to WN-type objects is poorly understood. O-type supergiants with emission lines (OIf+) are considered to be intermediate between these two classes. The scope of this ... [more ▼]

The transition from early Of stars to WN-type objects is poorly understood. O-type supergiants with emission lines (OIf+) are considered to be intermediate between these two classes. The scope of this paper is to investigate the spectral variability of three Of+ supergiants. We constituted spectral time series of unprecedented quality for our targets (~200 spectra in total), essentially in the blue domain, covering timescales from a few hours up to a few years. Temporal Variance Spectrum and Fourier analyses were performed in order to characterize their spectral variability. We report on a correlated significant line profile variability in the prominent He II λ4686 and Hβ lines most likely related to the strong stellar winds. The variability pattern is similar for the three stars investigated (HD 14947, HD 15570, and HD 16691), and the main differences are more quantitative than qualitative. However, the reported timescales are somewhat different, and the most striking variability pattern is reported for HD 16691. We did not find any clear evidence for binarity, and we focus mainly on an interpretation based on a single-star scenario. We show that the behavior of the three stars investigated in this study present strong similarities, pointing to a putative common scenario, even though a few differences should be noted. Our preferred interpretation scheme is that of Large-Scale Corotating Structures modulating the profile of the lines that are produced in the strong stellar wind. [less ▲]

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See detailEarly-type stars in the young open cluster NGC 2244 and in the Monoceros OB2 association. I. The multiplicity of O-type stars
Mahy, Laurent ULg; Nazé, Yaël ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg et al

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2009), 502

Aims. We present the results obtained from a long-term spectroscopic campaign to study the multiplicity of O-type stars in both the young open cluster NGC 2244 and the Mon OB2 association. Methods: Our ... [more ▼]

Aims. We present the results obtained from a long-term spectroscopic campaign to study the multiplicity of O-type stars in both the young open cluster NGC 2244 and the Mon OB2 association. Methods: Our spectroscopic monitoring was performed over several years, allowing us to investigate different timescales. For each star, several spectral diagnostic tools were applied to search for line shifts and profile variations. We also measured the projected rotational velocity and revisited the spectral classification. Results: Several stars in our sample have been previously considered to be spectroscopic binaries, although only a few scattered observations were available. Our results now have identified a more complex situation for two new spectroscopic binaries (HD 46 149 in NGC 2244 and HD 46 573 in Mon OB2). The first object is a long-period double-lined spectroscopic binary, although the exact value of its period remains uncertain and the second object is classified as an SB1 system with a period of about 10.67 days but the time series of our observations do not enable us to derive a unique orbital solution for this system. We also find another star to be variable in radial velocity (HD 46 150) and detect line profile variations in two rapid rotators (HD 46 056 and HD 46 485). Conclusions: This spectroscopic investigation places a firm lower limit (17%) on the binary fraction of O-stars in NGC 2244 and reveals the lack of short-period O+OB systems in this cluster. In addition, a comparison of these new results with two other well-studied clusters (NGC 6231 and IC 1805) puts forward possible hints of a relation between stellar density and binarity, which could provide constraints on the theories of the formation and early evolution of hot stars. Table 2 is only available in electronic form at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (130.79.128.5) or via http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/cgi-bin/qcat?J/A+A/502/937 Based on observations collected at Observatoire de Haute-Provence (France), San Pedro Màrtir Observatory (Mexico), La Silla Observatory (European Southern Observatory), and Asiago Observatory (Italy). [less ▲]

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See detailNon-thermal processes in colliding-wind massive binaries: the contribution of Simbol-X to a multiwavelength investigation
De Becker, Michaël ULg; Blomme, Ronny; Micela, Giusi et al

in AIP Conference Proceedings (2009, May), 1126

Several colliding-wind massive binaries are known to be non-thermal emitters in the radio domain. This constitutes strong evidence for the fact that an efficient particle acceleration process is at work ... [more ▼]

Several colliding-wind massive binaries are known to be non-thermal emitters in the radio domain. This constitutes strong evidence for the fact that an efficient particle acceleration process is at work in these objects. The acceleration mechanism is most probably the Diffusive Shock Acceleration (DSA) process in the presence of strong hydrodynamic shocks due to the colliding-winds. In order to investigate the physics of this particle acceleration, we initiated a multiwavelength campaign covering a large part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In this context, the detailed study of the hard X-ray emission from these sources in the SIMBOL-X bandpass constitutes a crucial element in order to probe this still poorly known topic of astrophysics. It should be noted that colliding-wind massive binaries should be considered as very valuable targets for the investigation of particle acceleration in a similar way as supernova remnants, but in a different region of the parameter space. [less ▲]

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See detailLong baseline interferometry as a tool to investigate colliding-wind massive binaries
De Becker, Michaël ULg

Conference (2009, March 20)

Massive stars present the interesting property to generate strong stellar winds. In the particular case of binary systems made of two massive stars, the two stellar winds are likely to collide. In ... [more ▼]

Massive stars present the interesting property to generate strong stellar winds. In the particular case of binary systems made of two massive stars, the two stellar winds are likely to collide. In addition, in this scenario, interesting physics is occurring, such as strong high-energy emission, dust production or even particle acceleration. However, our capability to understand these "higher-level" processes relies intimately on our knowledge of stellar and orbital parameters of these binaries, and on our vision of the hydrodynamics that is taking place in these objects. In this context, the purpose of this presentation is to discuss the expected contribution of long baseline interferometry. [less ▲]

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See detailThe Simbol-X mission and the investigation of hard X-rays from massive stars
De Becker, Michaël ULg

Conference (2009, February 19)

Simbol-X is a mission initially driven by the French and Italian space agencies. This is a formation flying satellite whose main interest is an unprecedented imaging and spectral capability, with a high ... [more ▼]

Simbol-X is a mission initially driven by the French and Italian space agencies. This is a formation flying satellite whose main interest is an unprecedented imaging and spectral capability, with a high sensitivity at energies between 10 and 80 keV. This space observatory is especially designed to study acceleration processes in astrophysical sources, along with extreme physics under relativistic conditions. I will briefly present the current status of the mission. I will also discuss prospects for future observations of massive stars with Simbol-X, aiming at probing the physics of particle acceleration in colliding-wind massive binaries. [less ▲]

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See detailLong baseline interferometry applied to the study of massive stars: current observations and prospects for VSI
De Becker, Michaël ULg

Conference (2009, February 19)

Recent advances in the development of interferometric instruments coupled to long baseline facilities such as the VLTI allow us to observe astronomical targets at the milli-arcsecond scale. In the context ... [more ▼]

Recent advances in the development of interferometric instruments coupled to long baseline facilities such as the VLTI allow us to observe astronomical targets at the milli-arcsecond scale. In the context of the study of massive stars, this new tool is likely to provide crucial information on the multiplicity of massive stars, and on interactions in colliding-wind binaries. In this context, our group is leading observation campaigns with the VLTI aiming at investigating massive multiple systems. I will briefly present these campaigns and discuss prospects for observations with next generation instruments such as the VLTI-Spectro-Imager (VSI). [less ▲]

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See detailA multiwavelength investigation of the massive eclipsing binary Cyg OB2 #5
Linder, Natacha ULg; Rauw, Grégor ULg; Manfroid, Jean ULg et al

in Astronomy and Astrophysics (2009), 495

Context. The properties of the early-type binary Cyg OB2 #5 have been debated for many years and spectroscopic and photometric investigations yielded conflicting results. Aims. We have attempted to ... [more ▼]

Context. The properties of the early-type binary Cyg OB2 #5 have been debated for many years and spectroscopic and photometric investigations yielded conflicting results. Aims. We have attempted to constrain the physical properties of the binary by collecting new optical and X-ray observations. Methods. The optical light curves obtained with narrow-band continuum and line-bearing filters are analysed and compared. Optical spectra are used to map the location of the He II $\lambda $ 4686 and H$\alpha $ line-emission regions in velocity space. New XMM-Newton as well as archive X-ray spectra are analysed to search for variability and constrain the properties of the hot plasma in this system. Results. We find that the orbital period of the system slowly changes though we are unable to discriminate between several possible explanations of this trend. The best fit solution of the continuum light curve reveals a contact configuration with the secondary star being significantly brighter and hotter on its leading side facing the primary. The mean temperature of the secondary star turns out to be only slightly lower than that of the primary, whilst the bolometric luminosity ratio is found to be 3.1. The solution of the light curve yields a distance of $925 \pm 25$ pc much lower than the usually assumed distance of the Cyg OB2 association. Whilst we confirm the existence of episodes of higher X-ray fluxes, the data reveal no phase-locked modulation with the 6.6 day period of the eclipsing binary nor any clear relation between the X-ray flux and the 6.7 yr radio cycle. Conclusions. The bright region of the secondary star is probably heated by energy transfer in a common envelope in this contact binary system as well as by the collision with the primary's wind. The existence of a common photosphere probably also explains the odd mass-luminosity relation of the stars in this system. Most of the X-ray, non-thermal radio, and possibly $\gamma$-ray emission of Cyg OB2 #5 is likely to arise from the interaction of the combined wind of the eclipsing binary with at least one additional star of this multiple system. [less ▲]

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See detailThe Quiet HMXB Candidates HD 14633 and HD 15137
McSwain, M. V.; Roberts, M. S. E.; Boyajian, T. S. et al

Conference (2009)

The runaway O-type binaries HD 14633 and HD 15137 were likely ejected from the cluster of their birth by supernovae explosions in close binaries. Neither star is a known X-ray source, but they likely ... [more ▼]

The runaway O-type binaries HD 14633 and HD 15137 were likely ejected from the cluster of their birth by supernovae explosions in close binaries. Neither star is a known X-ray source, but they likely contain neutron stars and may be weak stellar wind accretion systems. Hence the two binaries have been classified as "quiet HMXBs". Here we present new optical spectra of these spectroscopic binaries and reassess their orbits. We also present preliminary results from recent XMM-Newton observations, intended to detect the hard power-law spectrum from accreting or quiescent neutron star companions and reveal the evolutionary history of these intriguing runaways. [less ▲]

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See detailMilli-arcsecond Astrophysics with VSI, the VLTI Spectro-imager in the ELT Era
Malbet, F.; Buscher, D.; Weigelt, G. et al

in Moorwood, Alan (Ed.) Science with the VLT in the ELT Era (2009)

Nowadays, compact sources relatively warm like surfaces of nearby stars, circumstellar environments of stars from early stages to the most evolved ones and surroundings of active galactic nuclei can be ... [more ▼]

Nowadays, compact sources relatively warm like surfaces of nearby stars, circumstellar environments of stars from early stages to the most evolved ones and surroundings of active galactic nuclei can be investigated at milli-arcsecond scales only with the VLT in its interferometric mode. We propose a spectro-imager, named VSI (VLTI spectro-imager), which is capable to probe these sources both over spatial and spectral scales in the near-infrared domain. This instrument will provide information complementary to what is obtained at the same time with ALMA at different wavelengths and the extreme large telescopes. [less ▲]

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See detailThe multiwavelength picture of star formation in the very young open cluster NGC6383
Rauw, Grégor ULg; De Becker, Michaël ULg

in Reipurth, Bo (Ed.) Handbook of Star Forming Region. Volume 2: The Southern Sky (2008)

We review the properties of the very young (˜ 2 Myr) open cluster NGC 6383. The cluster is dominated by the massive binary HD 159176 (O7 V + O7 V). The distance to NGC 6383 is consistently found to be 1.3 ... [more ▼]

We review the properties of the very young (˜ 2 Myr) open cluster NGC 6383. The cluster is dominated by the massive binary HD 159176 (O7 V + O7 V). The distance to NGC 6383 is consistently found to be 1.3 ± 0.1 kpc and the average reddening is determined to be E(bv) = 0.32 ± 0.02. Several pre-main sequence candidates have been identified using different criteria relying on the detection of emission lines, infrared excesses, photometric variability and X-ray emission. [less ▲]

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See detailScience case for 1 mas spectro-imagining in the near-infrared
Garcia, Paulo J V; Berger, Jean-Phillipe; Marconi, Alessandro et al

in Schöller, Markus; Danchi, William; Delplancke, Françoise (Eds.) Optical and Infrared Interferometry (2008, July 01)

We present the work developed within the science team of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer Spectro-Imager (VSI) during the Phase A studies. VSI aims at delivering ~ 1 milliarcsecond resolution data ... [more ▼]

We present the work developed within the science team of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer Spectro-Imager (VSI) during the Phase A studies. VSI aims at delivering ~ 1 milliarcsecond resolution data cubes in the near-infrared, with several spectral resolutions up to 12 000, by combining up to 8 VLTI telescopes. In the design of an instrument, the science case plays a central role by supporting the instrument construction decision, defining the top-level requirements and balancing design options. The overall science philosophy of VSI was that of a general user instrument serving a broad community. The science team addressed themes which included several areas of astrophysics and illustrated specific modes of operation of the instrument: a) YSO disks and winds; b) Multiplicity of young stars; c) Exoplanets; d) Debris disks; e) Stellar surface imaging; f) The environments of evolved stars; g) AGN tori; h) AGN's Broad Line Region; i) Supermassive black-holes; and j) Microlensing. The main conclusions can be summarized as follows: a) The accessible targets and related science are extremely sensitive to the instrument limiting magnitude; the instrument should be optimized for sensitivity and have its own fringe tracker. b) Most of the science cases are readily achievable with on-axis fringe tracking, off-axis fringe tracking enabling extra science. c) In most targets (YSOs, evolved stars and AGNs), the interpretation and analysis of circumstellar/nuclear dust morphology requires direct access to the gas via spectral resolved studies of emission lines, requiring at least a spectral resolution of 2 500. d) To routinely deliver images at the required sensitivity, the number of telescopes in determinant, with 6 telescopes being favored. e) The factorial increase in the number of closure phases and visibilities, gained in a single observation, makes massive surveys of parameters and related science for the first time possible. f) High dynamic range imaging and very high dynamic range differential closure phase are possible allowing the study of debris disks and characterization of pegasides. g) Spectro-imaging in the near-infrared is highly complementary to ALMA, adaptive optics and interferometric imaging in the thermal infrared. [less ▲]

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See detailVSI: the VLTI spectro-imager
Malbet, F.; Buscher, D.; Weigelt, G. et al

in Schöller, Markus; Danchi, William; Delplancke, Françoise (Eds.) Optical and Infrared Interferometry (2008, July 01)

The VLTI Spectro Imager (VSI) was proposed as a second-generation instrument of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer providing the ESO community with spectrally-resolved, near-infrared images at ... [more ▼]

The VLTI Spectro Imager (VSI) was proposed as a second-generation instrument of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer providing the ESO community with spectrally-resolved, near-infrared images at angular resolutions down to 1.1 milliarcsecond and spectral resolutions up to R = 12000. Targets as faint as K = 13 will be imaged without requiring a brighter nearby reference object; fainter targets can be accessed if a suitable reference is available. The unique combination of high-dynamic-range imaging at high angular resolution and high spectral resolution enables a scientific program which serves a broad user community and at the same time provides the opportunity for breakthroughs in many areas of astrophysics. The high level specifications of the instrument are derived from a detailed science case based on the capability to obtain, for the first time, milliarcsecond-resolution images of a wide range of targets including: probing the initial conditions for planet formation in the AU-scale environments of young stars; imaging convective cells and other phenomena on the surfaces of stars; mapping the chemical and physical environments of evolved stars, stellar remnants, and stellar winds; and disentangling the central regions of active galactic nuclei and supermassive black holes. VSI will provide these new capabilities using technologies which have been extensively tested in the past and VSI requires little in terms of new infrastructure on the VLTI. At the same time, VSI will be able to make maximum use of new infrastructure as it becomes available; for example, by combining 4, 6 and eventually 8 telescopes, enabling rapid imaging through the measurement of up to 28 visibilities in every wavelength channel within a few minutes. The current studies are focused on a 4-telescope version with an upgrade to a 6-telescope one. The instrument contains its own fringe tracker and tip-tilt control in order to reduce the constraints on the VLTI infrastructure and maximize the scientific return. [less ▲]

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