Fermi establishes classical novae as a distinct class of gamma-ray sources

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Science  01 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6196, pp. 554-558
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253947

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Gamma-ray novas may be garden variety

When astronomers detected gamma rays from the nova V407 Cyg, an explosive mass transfer from a red giant onto a white dwarf, they found it surprising enough. They blamed the rays on strong stellar winds enabling particle acceleration. Now, the Fermi-LAT Collaboration has observed gamma rays from three more novas, all lacking the strong winds. Although the three sources vary slightly in nature, none is particularly unusual. If all novas emit gamma rays, then astronomers would expect to see the same number of novas that they did in fact see within a 5-kpc distance over 5 years.

Science, this issue p. 554


A classical nova results from runaway thermonuclear explosions on the surface of a white dwarf that accretes matter from a low-mass main-sequence stellar companion. In 2012 and 2013, three novae were detected in γ rays and stood in contrast to the first γ-ray–detected nova V407 Cygni 2010, which belongs to a rare class of symbiotic binary systems. Despite likely differences in the compositions and masses of their white dwarf progenitors, the three classical novae are similarly characterized as soft-spectrum transient γ-ray sources detected over 2- to 3-week durations. The γ-ray detections point to unexpected high-energy particle acceleration processes linked to the mass ejection from thermonuclear explosions in an unanticipated class of Galactic γ-ray sources.

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