Binary orbits as the driver of γ-ray emission and mass ejection in classical novae

Chomiuk, Laura, Linford, Justin D., Yang, Jun, O’Brien, T. J., Paragi, Zsolt, Mioduszewski, Amy J., Beswick, R. J., Cheung, C. C., Mukai, Koji et al (2014) Binary orbits as the driver of γ-ray emission and mass ejection in classical novae. Nature, 514 (7522). pp. 339-342. ISSN 0028-0836

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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 �10,000 solar masses of material at velocities exceeding 1,000 km/s. However, the mechanism of mass ejection in novae is poorly understood, and could be dominated by the impulsive flash of the thermonuclear runaway, prolonged optically thick winds, or binary interaction with the nova envelope. Classical novae are now routinely detected in GeV gamma-rays, suggesting that relativistic particles are accelerated by strong shocks in nova ejecta. Here we present high-resolution imaging of the gamma-ray-emitting nova V959 Mon at radio wavelengths, showing that its ejecta were shaped by binary motion: 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 gamma-ray production. Binary shaping of the nova ejecta and associated internal shocks are expected to be widespread among novae, explaining why many novae are gamma-ray emitters.

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