X-ray spectroscopy of the 2006 outburst of RS Ophiuchi

Thomas Nelson, Marina Orio, Joseph P. Cassinelli, Martin Still, Elia Leibowitz, Paola Mucciarelli

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We present X-ray grating spectra of the recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi during its 2006 outburst, obtained with XMM-Newton and Chandra. For the first month after optical maximum, the X-ray spectrum was hard and dominated by emission lines of H-like and He-like ions. The X-ray luminosity was 2.4 × 10 36 ergs s-1 in the 0.33-10 keV range. The spectra indicate a collisionally dominated plasma with a broad range of temperatures and an energy-dependent velocity structure. During an observation obtained in week 4, a soft X-ray flare occurred in which a new system of soft, higher velocity emission lines appeared in the spectrum. Then, during weeks 6-10, the supersoft continuum of the hot white dwarf atmosphere was the dominant emission component. The X-ray luminosity reached at least 9 × 1037 ergs s -1 in the 0.2-1 keV range, while the intrinsic nebular absorption decreased by a factor of 5 since the first observation. Preliminary model fitting indicates a white dwarf temperature of ∼800,000 K, and a mass of at least 1.2 M. Therefore, RS Oph may be an important Type Ia supernova progenitor. We show that the data are consistent with mass loss ending before day 54 of the outburst, and nuclear burning ending around day 69. A rapid decay in X-ray luminosity followed after week 10. The X-ray luminosity 5, 7, and 8 months after optical maximum dropped by more than 2 orders of magnitude. The spectra do not appear to be consistent with emission from an accretion disk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1067-1079
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Novae, cataclysmic variables
  • Stars: individual (RS Ophiuchi)
  • Techniques: spectroscopic
  • X-rays: stars


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