HST images flash ionization of old ejecta by the 2011 eruption of recurrent nova T Pyxidis

Michael M. Shara, David Zurek, Bradley E. Schaefer, Howard E. Bond, Patrick Godon, Mordecai Mark Mac Low, Ashley Pagnotta, Dina Prialnik, Edward M. Sion, Jayashree Toraskar, Robert E. Williams

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Abstract

T Pyxidis is the only recurrent nova known to be surrounded by knots of material ejected in previous outbursts. Following the eruption that began on 2011 April 14.29, we obtained seven epochs (from 4 to 383 days after eruption) of Hubble Space Telescope narrowband Hα images of T Pyx. The ionizing flash of radiation from the nova event had no discernible effect on the surrounding ejecta until at least 55 days after the eruption began. Photoionization of hydrogen located north and south of the central star was seen 132 days after the beginning of the eruption. That photoionized hydrogen recombined in the following 51 days, allowing us to determine a hydrogen atom density of at least - at least 7 × 105 cm?3- an order of magnitude denser than the previously detected, unresolved [N ii] knots surrounding T Pyx. Material to the northwest and southeast was photoionized, and became bright between 132 and 183 days after the eruption began. Ninety-nine days later that northwest and southeast hydrogen had recombined. Both then (282 days after outburst) and 101 days later, we detected almost no trace of hydrogen emission around T Pyx. We determine that there is a large reservoir of previously unseen, cold diffuse hydrogen overlapping the previously detected, [N ii]-emitting knots of T Pyx ejecta. The mass of this newly detected hydrogen is model-dependent, but is is probably an order of magnitude larger than that of the [N ii] knots. We also determine that there is no significant reservoir of undetected hydrogen-rich ejecta, with density comparable to the flash-ionized ejecta we have detected, from the outer boundaries of the previously detected ejecta out to about twice that distance. The lack of distant ejecta is consistent with the Schaefer et al. scenario for T Pyx, in which the star underwent its first eruption within five years of 1866 after many millennia of quiescence, followed by the six observed recurrent nova eruptions since 1890. The lack of distant ejecta, demonstrated by our observations, is not consistent with scenarios in which T Pyx has been erupting continuously as a recurrent nova for many centuries or millennia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number148
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume805
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Shara, M. M., Zurek, D., Schaefer, B. E., Bond, H. E., Godon, P., Low, M. M. M., Pagnotta, A., Prialnik, D., Sion, E. M., Toraskar, J., & Williams, R. E. (2015). HST images flash ionization of old ejecta by the 2011 eruption of recurrent nova T Pyxidis. Astrophysical Journal, 805(2), [148]. https://doi.org/10.1088/0004-637X/805/2/148