RXTE spectral monitoring of RS Oph
Credit:J. L. Sokoloski et al., Nature, Volume 442, pg. 276

The Blast Fades

Novae are binary star systems in which a red giant star dumps mass onto a compact white dwarf. Sometimes enough material accumulates on the white dwarf that a thermonuclear explosion occurs on the white dwarf's surface. This explosion is seen as a startling increase in the star's brightness, and during the explosion stellar material is blasted into space. Astronomers believe they understand how the explosion occurs, but they are less clear on the amount of material blown off, and how that material interacts with the galactic material near the star. Now important new observations of a recurrent nova called RS Oph by the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer are giving astronomers an unprecedented view of how the blast wave from a nova evolves. The image above shows X-ray spectra of RS Oph measured by the Proportional Counter Array on RXTE obtained after RS Oph's last nova eruption in February 2006. The fading of the spectra with time after the eruption has helped astronomers measure the mass of the ejecta and also helps astronomers understand the geometry of the explosion.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:20:51 EDT