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Theses Doctoral

Radio Observations as a Tool to Investigate Shocks and Asymmetries in Accreting White Dwarf Binaries

Weston, Jennifer Helen Seng

This dissertation uses radio observations with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to investigate the mechanisms that power and shape accreting white dwarfs (WD) and their ejecta. We test the predictions of both simple spherical and steady-state radio emission models by examining nova V1723 Aql, nova V5589 Sgr, symbiotic CH Cyg, and two small surveys of symbiotic binaries.
First, we highlight classical nova V1723 Aql with three years of radio observations alongside optical and X-ray observations. We use these observations to show that multiple outflows from the system collided to create early non-thermal shocks with a brightness temperature of ⪆10⁶ K. While the late-time radio light curve is roughly consistent an expanding thermal shell of mass 2x10⁻⁴ M ⊙ solar masses, resolved images of V1723 Aql show elongated material that apparently rotates its major axis over the course of 15 months, much like what is seen in gamma-ray producing nova V959 Mon, suggesting similar structures in the two systems. Next, we examine nova V5589 Sgr, where we find that the early radio emission is dominated by a shock-powered non-thermal flare that produces strong (kTₓ > 33 keV) X-rays. We additionally find roughly 10⁻⁵ M⊙ solar masses of thermal bremsstrahlung emitting material, all at a distance of ~4 kpc. The similarities in the evolution of both V1723 Aql and V5589 Sgr to that of nova V959 Mon suggest that these systems may all have dense equatorial tori shaping faster flows at their poles.
Turning our focus to symbiotic binaries, we first use our radio observations of CH Cyg to link the ejection of a collimated jet to a change of state in the accretion disk. We additionally estimate the amount of mass ejected during this period (10⁻⁷ M⊙ masses), and improve measurements of the period of jet precession (P=12013 +/- 74 days). We then use our survey of eleven accretion-driven symbiotic systems to determine that the radio brightness of a symbiotic system could potentially be used as an indicator of whether a symbiotic is powered predominantly by shell burning on the surface of the WD or by accretion. We additionally make the first ever radio detections of seven of the targets in our survey. Our survey of seventeen radio bright symbiotics, comparing observations before and after the upgrades to the VLA, shows the technological feasibility to resolve the nebulae of nearby symbiotic binaries, opening the door for new lines of research. We spatially resolve extended structure in several symbiotic systems in radio for the first time. Additionally, our observations reveal extreme radio variability in symbiotic BF Cyg before and after the production of a jet from the system. Our results from our surveys of symbiotics provide some support for the model of radio emission where the red giant wind is photoionized by the WD, and suggests that there may be a greater population of radio faint, accretion driven symbiotic systems. This work emphasizes the powerful nature of radio observations as a tool for understanding eruptive WD binaries and their outflows.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Sokoloski, Jennifer Lynn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 27, 2016