Shocks in nova outflows - I. Thermal emission

Brian D. Metzger, Romain Hascoët, Indrek Vurm, Andrei M. Beloborodov, Laura Chomiuk, J. L. Sokoloski, Thomas Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Growing evidence for shocks in nova outflows includes (1) multiple velocity components in the optical spectra; (2) hard X-ray emission starting weeks to months after the outburst; (3) an early radio flare on time-scales of months, in excess of that predicted from the freely expanding photoionized gas and, perhaps most dramatically, (4)~GeV gamma-ray emission. We present a one-dimensional model for the shock interaction between the fast nova outflow and a dense external shell (DES) and its associated thermal X-ray, optical, and radio emission. The lower velocity DES could represent an earlier stage of mass-loss from the white dwarf or ambient material not directly related to the thermonuclear runaway. The forward shock is radiative initially when the density of shocked gas is highest, at which times radio emission originates from the dense cooling layer immediately downstream of the shock. Our predicted radio light curve is characterized by sharper rises to maximum and later peak times at progressively lower frequencies, with a peak brightness temperature that is approximately independent of frequency. We apply our model to the recent gamma-ray producing classical nova V1324 Sco, obtaining an adequate fit to the early radio maximum assuming that the DES possesses a characteristic velocity ~103 km s-1 and mass ~ few 10-4M⊙ the former is consistent with the velocities of narrow-line absorption systems observed previously in nova spectra, while the total ejecta mass of the DES and fast outflow is consistent with that inferred independently by modelling the late radio peak as uniformly expanding photoionized gas. Importantly, however, our thermal model can only explain the peak radio fluxes if line cooling of the post-shock gas at temperatures ~106 K is suppressed below its collisional ionization equilibrium value for solar abundances due to photoionization; if this condition is not satisfied, this strongly suggests that the early radio peak is instead non-thermal (e.g. synchrotron) in origin. Rapid evolution of the early radio light curves requires the DES to possess a steep outer density profile, which may indicate that the onset of mass-loss from the white dwarf was rapid, providing indirect evidence that the DES was expelled as the result of the thermonuclear runaway event. Reprocessed X-rays from the shock absorbed by the DES at early times are found to contribute significantly to the optical/UV emission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-731
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Cataclysmic variables
  • Novae
  • Radiation mechanisms: thermal
  • Shock waves


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