Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : Context. The heavy mass loss observed in evolved asymptotic giant branch stars is usually attributed to a two-step process: atmospheric levitation by pulsation-induced shock waves, followed by radiative acceleration of newly formed dust grains. Detailed wind models suggest that the outflows of M-type AGB stars may be triggered by photon scattering on Fe-free silicates with grain sizes of about 0.1-1 μm. As a consequence of the low grain temperature, these Fe-free silicates can condense close to the star, but they do not produce the characteristic mid-IR features that are often observed in M-type AGB stars. However, it is probable that the silicate grains are gradually enriched with Fe as they move away from the star, to a degree where the grain temperature stays below the sublimation temperature, but is high enough to produce emission features. Aims. We investigate whether differences in grain temperature in the inner wind region, which are related to changes in the grain composition, can be detected with current interferometric techniques, in order to put constraints on the wind mechanism. Methods. We use phase-dependent radial structures of the atmosphere and wind of an M-type AGB star, produced with the 1D radiation-hydrodynamical code DARWIN, to investigate if current interferometric techniques can differentiate between the temperature structures that give rise to the same overall spectral energy distribution. Results. The spectral energy distribution is found to be a poor indicator of different temperature profiles and therefore is not a good tool for distinguishing different scenarios of changing grain composition. However, spatially resolved interferometric observations have promising potential. They show signatures even for Fe-free silicates (found at 2-3 stellar radii), in contrast to the spectral energy distribution. Observations with baselines that probe spatial scales of about 4 stellar radii and beyond are suitable for tracing changes in grain composition, since this is where effects of Fe enrichment should be found.