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New Ultraviolet Observations of AM CVn

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Published Article
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DOI: 10.1086/521649
Source
arXiv
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Abstract

We have obtained observations of the ultraviolet spectrum of AM CVn, an ultra-short-period helium cataclysmic variable, using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). We obtained data in time-tag mode during two consecutive orbits of HST, covering 1600-3150 and 1140-1710 Angstrom, respectively. The mean spectrum is approximately flat in f-nu. The absorption profiles of the strong lines of N V, Si IV, C IV, He II, and N IV are blue-shifted and in some cases asymmetric, evidencing a wind that is partly occulted by the accretion disk. There is weak red-shifted emission from N V and He II. The profiles of these lines vary mildly with time. The light curve shows a decline of ~20% over the span of the observations. There is also flickering and a 27 s (or 54 s) "dwarf nova oscillation", revealed in a power-spectrum analysis. The amplitude of this oscillation is larger at shorter wavelengths. We assemble and illustrate the spectral energy distribution (s.e.d.) of AM CVn from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared. Modeling the accretion phenomenon in this binary system can in principle lead to a robust estimate of the mass accretion rate on to the central white dwarf, which is of great interest in characterizing the evolutionary history of the binary system. Inferences about the mass accretion rate depend strongly on the local radiative properties of the disk, as we illustrate. Uncertainty in the distance of AM CVn and other parameters of the binary system presently limit the ability to confidently infer the mass accretion rate.

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