The ultraviolet pulsations of the cataclysmic variable AE aquarii as observed with the Hubble Space Telescope

Michael Eracleous, Keith Horne, Edward L. Robinson, Er Ho Zhang, Thomas R. Marsh, Janet H. Wood

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We present the results of high time resolution UV spectroscopy and simultaneous high-speed UBVR photometry of AE Aqr. The UV spectra were obtained with the Faint Object Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope, and the photometry was carried out with the 82″ telescope at McDonald Observatory. Our study focuses on the coherent 33 second oscillations, whose amplitude is found to be very large in the UV (40% of the mean quiescent level). The mean pulse profile has two broad unequal peaks spaced by half an oscillation cycle. The pulse profiles in the UV and optical bands appear quite similar in shape, with no discernible shifts. The orbital delay curve of the UV pulses establishes the white dwarf as their origin. The (UV + optical) spectrum of the pulsations is well described by a white dwarf atmosphere model with a temperature of about 26,000 K. We find no oscillations in the UV emission-line fluxes, nor in their velocities, down to a limit of 800 km s-1. Based on the properties of the UV and optical pulsations we suggest that they originate in the X-ray heated magnetic polar caps of the white dwarf. Under this assumption we produce maximum entropy maps of the brightness distribution of the white dwarf surface. Using this model we are able to reproduce the observed mean pulse profile and interpret fluctuations in the oscillation amplitude as small fluctuations in the accretion rate. We find that the amplitudes and profiles of the pulses are not strongly affected by the large aperiodic flares exhibited by the system. This suggests that the large flares are not related to the process of depositing material onto the white dwarf, and argues against models that place their origin at the white dwarf magnetosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-331
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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