Exploding stars called novae remain a puzzle to astronomers. “Modelling these outbursts is very difficult,” says Wolfgang Pietsch of the Max Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik. Now, ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra space-borne X-ray observatories have provided valuable information about when individual novae emit X-rays.
Between July 2004 and February 2005, the X-ray observatories watched the heart of the nearby galaxy, Andromeda, also known to astronomers as M31. During that time, Pietsch and his colleagues monitored novae, looking for the X-rays.
They detected that eleven out of the 34 novae that had exploded in the galaxy during the previous year were shining X-rays into space. “X-rays are an important window onto novae. They show the atmosphere of the white dwarf,” says Pietsch.
White dwarfs are hot stellar corpses left behind after the rest of the star has been ejected into space. A typical white dwarf contains about the mass of the Sun, in a spherical volume little bigger than the Earth. Given its density, it has a strong pull of gravity. If in orbit around a normal star, it may rip gas from the star.
This material builds up on the surface of the white dwarf until it reaches sufficient density for a nuclear detonation. The resultant explosion creates a nova visible in the optical region for a few to a hundred days. However, these particular events are not strong enough to destroy the underlying white dwarf.
The X-ray emission becomes visible some time after the detonation, when the matter ejected by the nova thins out. This allows astronomers to peer down to the atmosphere of the white dwarf, which is burning by nuclear fusion.
At the end of the process, the X-ray emission stops when the fuel is exhausted. The duration of this X-ray emission traces the amount of material left on the white dwarf after the nova has ended.
A well determined start time of the optical nova outburst and the X-ray turn-on and turn-off times are therefore important benchmarks, or constraints, for replication in computer models of novae.
Whilst monitoring the M31 novae frequently over several months for the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the X-rays, Pietsch made an important discovery. Some novae started to emit X-rays and then turned them off again within just a few months.
“These novae are a new class. They would have been overlooked before,” says Pietsch. That’s because previous surveys looked only every six months or so. Within that time, the fast X-ray novae could have blinked both on and off.
In addition to discovering the short-lived ones, the new survey also confirms that other novae generate X-rays over a much longer time. XMM-Newton detected seven novae that were still shining X-rays into space, up to a decade after the original eruption.
The differing lengths of times are thought to reflect the masses of the white dwarfs at the heart of the nova explosion. The fastest evolving novae are thought to be those coming from the most massive white dwarfs.
To investigate further, the team, lead by Dr. Pietsch, have been awarded more XMM-Newton and Chandra observing time. They now plan to monitor M31’s novae every ten days for several months, starting in November 2007, to glean more information about these puzzling stellar explosions.
Norbert Schartel | alfa
Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
07.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
07.12.2016 | Materials Sciences