Thermonuclear runaways in nova outbursts. II. Effect of strong, instantaneous, local fluctuations

Anurag Shankar, David Arnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


In an attempt to understand the manner in which nova outbursts are initiated on the surface of a white dwarf, we investigate the effects fluctuations have on the evolution of a thermonuclear runaway. Fluctuations in temperature, density, or the composition of material in the burning shell may arise due to the chaotic flow field generated by convection when it occurs, or by the accretion process itself. With the aid of two-dimensional reactive flow calculations, we consider cases where a strong fluctuation in temperature arises during the early, quiescent accretion phase or during the later, more dynamic, explosion phase. In all cases we find that an instantaneous, local temperature fluctuation causes the affected material to become Rayleigh-Taylor unstable. The rapid rise and subsequent expansion of matter immediately cools the hot blob, which prevents the lateral propagation of burning. This suggests that local temperature fluctuations do not play a significant role in directly initiating the runaway, especially during the early stages. However, they may provide an efficient mechanism of mixing core material into the envelope (thereby pre-enriching the fuel for subsequent episodes of explosive hydrogen burning) and of mixing substantial amounts of the radioactive nucleus 13N into the surface layers, making novae potential gamma-ray sources. This suggests that it is the global, not the local, evolution of the core-envelope interface to high temperatures which dominates the development of the runaway. We also present a possible new scenario for the initiation of nova outbursts based on our results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-228
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 1994


  • Hydrodynamics
  • Novae, cataclysmic variables
  • Nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • Stars: interiors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Thermonuclear runaways in nova outbursts. II. Effect of strong, instantaneous, local fluctuations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this