Binary orbits as the driver of γ-ray emission and mass ejection in classical novae
Nature 514, 7522 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13773
Authors: Laura Chomiuk, Justin D. Linford, Jun Yang, T. J. O’Brien, Zsolt Paragi, Amy J. Mioduszewski, R. J. Beswick, C. C. Cheung, Koji Mukai, Thomas Nelson, Valério A. R. M. Ribeiro, Michael P. Rupen, J. L. Sokoloski, Jennifer Weston, Yong Zheng, Michael F. Bode, Stewart Eyres, Nirupam Roy & Gregory B. Taylor
Classical novae are the most common astrophysical thermonuclear explosions, occurring on the surfaces of white dwarf stars accreting gas from companions in binary star systems. Novae typically expel about 10−4 solar masses of material at velocities exceeding 1,000 kilometres per second. However, the mechanism of mass ejection in novae is poorly understood, and could be dominated by the impulsive flash of thermonuclear energy, prolonged optically thick winds or binary interaction with the nova envelope. Classical novae are now routinely detected at gigaelectronvolt γ-ray wavelengths, suggesting that relativistic particles are accelerated by strong shocks in the ejecta. Here we report high-resolution radio imaging of the γ-ray-emitting nova V959 Mon. We find that its ejecta were shaped by the motion of the binary system: some gas was expelled rapidly along the poles as a wind from the white dwarf, while denser material drifted out along the equatorial plane, propelled by orbital motion. At the interface between the equatorial and polar regions, we observe synchrotron emission indicative of shocks and relativistic particle acceleration, thereby pinpointing the location of γ-ray production. Binary shaping of the nova ejecta and associated internal shocks are expected to be widespread among novae, explaining why many novae are γ-ray emitters.
A mass of less than 15 solar masses for the black hole in an ultraluminous X-ray source
Nature 514, 7521 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13730
Authors: C. Motch, M. W. Pakull, R. Soria, F. Grisé & G. Pietrzyński
Most ultraluminous X-ray sources have a typical set of properties not seen in Galactic stellar-mass black holes. They have luminosities of more than 3 × 1039 ergs per second, unusually soft X-ray components (with a typical temperature of less than about 0.3 kiloelectronvolts) and a characteristic downturn in their spectra above about 5 kiloelectronvolts. Such puzzling properties have been interpreted either as evidence of intermediate-mass black holes or as emission from stellar-mass black holes accreting above their Eddington limit, analogous to some Galactic black holes at peak luminosity. Recently, a very soft X-ray spectrum was observed in a rare and transient stellar-mass black hole. Here we report that the X-ray source P13 in the galaxy NGC 7793 is in a binary system with a period of about 64 days and exhibits all three canonical properties of ultraluminous sources. By modelling the strong optical and ultraviolet modulations arising from X-ray heating of the B9Ia donor star, we constrain the black hole mass to be less than 15 solar masses. Our results demonstrate that in P13, soft thermal emission and spectral curvature are indeed signatures of supercritical accretion. By analogy, ultraluminous X-ray sources with similar X-ray spectra and luminosities of up to a few times 1040 ergs per second can be explained by supercritical accretion onto massive stellar-mass black holes.
Ultraluminous X-ray sources: Small field with a large impact
Nature 514, 7521 (2014). doi:10.1038/514171a
Authors: Jeanette C. Gladstone
The nature of ultraluminous X-ray astronomical sources has long been unclear. The latest observations of these rare systems provide some crucial clues, but still leave theorists scratching their heads. See Letters p.198 & p.202
An ultraluminous X-ray source powered by an accreting neutron star
Nature 514, 7521 (2014). doi:10.1038/nature13791
Authors: M. Bachetti, F. A. Harrison, D. J. Walton, B. W. Grefenstette, D. Chakrabarty, F. Fürst, D. Barret, A. Beloborodov, S. E. Boggs, F. E. Christensen, W. W. Craig, A. C. Fabian, C. J. Hailey, A. Hornschemeier, V. Kaspi, S. R. Kulkarni, T. Maccarone, J. M. Miller, V. Rana, D. Stern, S. P. Tendulkar, J. Tomsick, N. A. Webb & W. W. Zhang
The majority of ultraluminous X-ray sources are point sources that are spatially offset from the nuclei of nearby galaxies and whose X-ray luminosities exceed the theoretical maximum for spherical infall (the Eddington limit) onto stellar-mass black holes. Their X-ray luminosities in the 0.5–10 kiloelectronvolt energy band range from 1039 to 1041 ergs per second. Because higher masses imply less extreme ratios of the luminosity to the isotropic Eddington limit, theoretical models have focused on black hole rather than neutron star systems. The most challenging sources to explain are those at the luminous end of the range (more than 1040 ergs per second), which require black hole masses of 50–100 times the solar value or significant departures from the standard thin disk accretion that powers bright Galactic X-ray binaries, or both. Here we report broadband X-ray observations of the nuclear region of the galaxy M82 that reveal pulsations with an average period of 1.37 seconds and a 2.5-day sinusoidal modulation. The pulsations result from the rotation of a magnetized neutron star, and the modulation arises from its binary orbit. The pulsed flux alone corresponds to an X-ray luminosity in the 3–30 kiloelectronvolt range of 4.9 × 1039 ergs per second. The pulsating source is spatially coincident with a variable source that can reach an X-ray luminosity in the 0.3–10 kiloelectronvolt range of 1.8 × 1040 ergs per second. This association implies a luminosity of about 100 times the Eddington limit for a 1.4-solar-mass object, or more than ten times brighter than any known accreting pulsar. This implies that neutron stars may not be rare in the ultraluminous X-ray population, and it challenges physical models for the accretion of matter onto magnetized compact objects.
Astronomy: To catch a cosmic ray
Nature 514, 7520 (2014). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/514020a
Author: Katia Moskvitch
The Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina has spent almost ten years looking for the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays — but to no avail. Now the observatory faces an uncertain future.
Astrophysics: Space ripples could pump up stars
Nature 514, 7520 (2014). doi:10.1038/514009c
Gravitational waves could energize and brighten stars — possibly providing indirect evidence for the weak ripples in space time that are thought to be emitted by high-energy events such as exploding stars.Barry McKernan at the City University of New York and his colleagues calculated
Astronomy: The age of the quasars
Nature 514, 7520 (2014). doi:10.1038/514043a
Authors: Daniel Mortlock
An infrared census of accreting supermassive black holes across a wide range of cosmic times indicates that the canonical understanding of how these luminous objects form and evolve may need to be adjusted.
Astronomy data bounty spurs debate over access
Nature 514, 7520 (2014). http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/514018a
Author: Mark Zastrow
Small institutions fear exclusion from Large Synoptic Survey Telescope's benefits.