HST spatially resolved spectra of the accretion disc and gas stream of the nova-like variable UX Ursae Majoris

Raymundo Baptista, Keith Horne, Richard A. Wade, Ivan Hubeny, Knox S. Long, René G.M. Rutten

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Time-resolved eclipse spectroscopy of the nova-like variable UX UMa obtained with the HSTfFOS on 1994 August and November is analysed with eclipse mapping techniques to produce spatially resolved spectra of its accretion disc and gas stream as a function of distance from the disc centre. The inner accretion disc is characterized by a blue continuum filled with absorption bands and lines, which cross over to emission with increasing disc radius, similar to that reported by Rutten et al. at optical wavelengths. The comparison of spatially resolved spectra at different azimuths reveals a significant asymmetry in the disc emission at ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, with the disc side closest to the secondary star showing pronounced absorption by an 'iron curtain' and a Balmer jump in absorption. These results suggest the existence of an absorbing ring of cold gas whose density and/or vertical scale increase with disc radius. The spectrum of the infalling gas stream is noticeably different from the disc spectrum at the same radius suggesting that gas overflows through the impact point at the disc rim and continues along the stream trajectory, producing distinct emission down to 0.1 RL1. The spectrum of the uneclipsed light shows prominent emission lines of Lyα, N V λ1241, Si IV λ1400, C IV λ1550, He II λ1640, and Mg II λ2800, and a UV continuum rising towards longer wavelengths. The Balmer jump appears clearly in emission indicating that the uneclipsed light has an important contribution from optically thin gas. The lines and optically thin continuum emission are most probably emitted in a vertically extended disc chromosphere + wind. The radial temperature profiles of the continuum maps are well described by a steady-state disc model in the inner and intermediate disc regions (R ≤ 0.3RL1). There is evidence of an increase in the mass accretion rate from August to November (from Ṁ = 10-8.3±0.1 to 10-8.1±0.1 M yr-1), in accordance with the observed increase in brightness. Since the UX UMa disc seems to be in a high mass accretion, high-viscosity regime in both epochs, this result suggests that the mass transfer rate of UX UMa varies substantially (≃50 per cent) on time-scales of a few months. It is suggested that the reason for the discrepancies between the prediction of the standard disc model and observations is not an inadequate treatment of radiative transfer in the disc atmosphere, but rather the presence of additional important sources of light in the system besides the accretion disc (e.g. optically thin continuum emission from the disc wind and possible absorption by circumstellar cool gas).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1091
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 21 1998


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Binaries: close
  • Eclipses
  • Novae, cataclysmic variables
  • Stars: individual: UX UMa
  • Ultraviolet: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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