On 15 June 2015, a long-time acquaintance of X-ray and gamma ray astronomers made its comeback to the cosmic stage: V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star orbiting one another. It is located in our Milky Way galaxy, almost 8000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.
In this type of binary system, material flows from the star towards the black hole and gathers in a disc, where it is heated up, shining brightly at optical, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths before spiralling into the black hole.
The V404 Cygni black hole system has not been this bright and active since 1989, when it was observed with the Japanese X-ray satellite Ginga and high-energy instruments on board the Mir space station.
The small binary star known as AB Doradus B is located in the AB Doradus star system, consisting of two pairs of stars. Stars normally emit light that can be seen with the naked eye or through telescopes, but some also emit radio waves, similar to those from televisions, mobile phones or microwave ovens.
These emissions have made it possible to calculate the mass of the star, which is usually complex, but "when the star is accompanied by another, its orbital motion gives us an accurate way to determine it, as Kepler's laws establish," says the director of the Astronomical Observatory, José Carlos Guirado, co-author of the study. "The mass of these stars cannot be reproduced by the current models of stellar evolution, so we require a major overhaul of these theories," adds the scientist in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
We present multi-epoch, time-resolved optical spectroscopic observations of the dwarf nova HT Cas, obtained during 1986, 1992, 1995 and 2005 with the aim to study the properties of emission structures in the system. We determined that the accretion disc radius, measured from the double-peaked emission line profiles, is persistently large and lies within the range of 0.45-0.52a, where a is the binary separation. This is close to the tidal truncation radius r_max=0.52a. This result contradicts with previous radius measurements. An extensive set of Doppler maps has revealed a very complex emission structure of the accretion disc. Apart from a ring of disc emission, the tomograms display at least three areas of enhanced emission: the hot spot from the area of interaction between the gas stream and the disc, which is superposed on the elongated spiral structure, and the extended bright region on the leading side of the disc, opposite to the location of the hot spot. The position of the hot spot in all the emission lines is consistent with the trajectory of the gas stream. However, the peaks of emission are located in the range of distances 0.22-0.30a, which are much closer to the white dwarf than the disc edge. This suggests that the outer disc regions have a very low density, allowing the gas stream to flow almost freely before it starts to be seen as an emission source. We have found that the extended emission region in the leading side of the disc is always observed at the very edge of the large disc. Observations of other cataclysmic variables, which show a similar emission structure in their tomograms, confirm this conclusion. We propose that the leading side bright region is caused by irradiation of tidally thickened sectors of the outer disc by the white dwarf and/or hot inner disc regions.
Authors: V. V. Neustroev, S. V. Zharikov, N. V. Borisov
Astronomers found the dust disc to begin about 900 million kilometres from the star — slightly farther than the distance from the Sun to Jupiter — and discovered that it flares outwards, creating a symmetrical, funnel-like shape surrounding the star. The team also observed a second source of light about 300 million kilometres — twice the distance from Earth to the Sun — from L2 Puppis. This very close companion star is likely to be another red giant of slightly lower mass, but less evolved.
The combination of a large amount of dust surrounding a slowly dying star, along with the presence of a companion star, mean that this is exactly the type of system expected to create a bipolar planetary nebula. These three elements seem to be necessary, but a considerable amount of good fortune is also still required if they are to lead to the subsequent emergence of a celestial butterfly from this dusty chrysalis.