Nuclear thermometers for classical novae

Lori N. Downen, Christian Iliadis, Jordi José, Sumner Starrfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Classical novae are stellar explosions occurring in binary systems, consisting of a white dwarf and a main-sequence companion. Thermonuclear runaways on the surface of massive white dwarfs, consisting of oxygen and neon, are believed to reach peak temperatures of several hundred million kelvin. These temperatures are strongly correlated with the underlying white dwarf mass. The observational counterparts of such models are likely associated with outbursts that show strong spectral lines of neon in their shells (neon novae). The goals of this work are to investigate how useful elemental abundances are for constraining the peak temperatures achieved during these outbursts and determine how robust "nova thermometers" are with respect to uncertain nuclear physics input. We present updated observed abundances in neon novae and perform a series of hydrodynamic simulations for several white dwarf masses. We find that the most useful thermometers, N/O, N/Al, O/S, S/Al, O/Na, Na/Al, O/P, and P/Al, are those with the steepest monotonic dependence on peak temperature. The sensitivity of these thermometers to thermonuclear reaction rate variations is explored using post-processing nucleosynthesis simulations. The ratios N/O, N/Al, O/Na, and Na/Al are robust, meaning they are minimally affected by uncertain rates. However, their dependence on peak temperature is relatively weak. The ratios O/S, S/Al, O/P, and P/Al reveal strong dependences on temperature and the poorly known 30P(p, γ)31S rate. We compare our model predictions to neon nova observations and obtain the following estimates for the underlying white dwarf masses: 1.34-1.35 M (V838 Her), 1.18-1.21 M (V382 Vel), ≤1.3 M (V693 CrA), ≤1.2 M (LMC 1990#1), and ≤1.2 M (QU Vul).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 2013


  • novae, cataclysmic variables
  • nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • stars: abundances

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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