M. Rafelski

University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States

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Publications (5)12.56 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: We report the first time series of broadband infrared color measurements of Sgr A*, the variable emission source associated with the supermassive black hole at the Galactic center. Using the laser and natural guide star adaptive optics systems on the Keck II Telescope, we imaged Sgr A* in multiple near-infrared broadband filters with a typical cycle time of ~3 minutes during four observing runs (2005-2006), two of which were simultaneous with Chandra X-ray measurements. In spite of the large range of dereddened flux densities for Sgr A* (2-30 mJy), all of our near-infrared measurements are consistent with a constant spectral index of α = -0.6 ± 0.2 (Fν να). Furthermore, this value is consistent with the spectral indices observed at X-ray wavelengths during nearly all outbursts, which is consistent with the synchrotron self-Compton model for the production of the X-ray emission. During the coordinated observations, one infrared outburst occurs ≤36 minutes after a possibly associated X-ray outburst, while several similar infrared outbursts show no elevated X-ray emission. A variable X-ray to IR ratio and constant infrared spectral index challenges the notion that the infrared and X-ray emission are connected to the same electrons. We, therefore, posit that the population of electrons responsible for both the IR and X-ray emission are generated by an acceleration mechanism that leaves the bulk of the electron energy distribution responsible for the infrared emission unchanged, but has a variable high-energy cutoff. Occasionally a tail of electrons 1 GeV is generated, and it is this high-energy tail that gives rise to the X-ray outbursts. One possible explanation for this type of variation is from the turbulence induced by a magnetorotational instability, in which the outer scale length of the turbulence varies and changes the high-energy cutoff.
    The Astrophysical Journal 06/2007; 667(2). DOI:10.1086/520762 · 6.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report the results of a diffraction-limited, photometric variability study of the central 5"x5" of the Galaxy conducted over the past 10 years using speckle imaging techniques on the W. M. Keck I 10 m telescope. Within our limiting magnitude of mK < 16 mag for images made from a single night of data, we find a minimum of 15 K[2.2 micron]-band variable stars out of 131 monitored stars. The only periodic source in our sample is the previously identified variable IRS 16SW, for which we measure an orbital period of 19.448 +- 0.002 days. In contrast to recent results, our data on IRS 16SW show an asymmetric phased light curve with a much steeper fall-time than rise-time, which may be due to tidal deformations caused by the proximity of the stars in their orbits. We also identify a possible wind colliding binary (IRS 29N) based on its photometric variation over a few year time-scale which is likely due to episodic dust production. None of the 4 LBV candidates in our sample show the characteristic large increase or decrease in luminosity, however, our time baseline is too short to rule them out as LBVs. Among the remaining variable stars, the majority are early-type stars and three are possibly variable due to line of sight extinction variations. For the 7 OB stars at the center of our field of view that have well-determined 3-dimensional orbits, we see no evidence of flares or dimming of their light, which limits the possibility of a cold, geometrically-thin inactive accretion disk around the supermassive black hole, Sgr A*.
    The Astrophysical Journal 02/2007; 659(2). DOI:10.1088/1742-6596/54/1/050 · 6.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report the frst time-series measurements of Sgr A*-IR's broadband infrared color. Using the newly commissioned laser guide star adaptive optics (LGS AO) system on the Keck II telescope, we imaged Sgr A*-IR, in the broadband liters H (1.6 μm), K' (2.1 μm), and L' (3.8 μm) every 3 minutes over the course of 120 minutes, during which time the Chandra X-ray Observatory was also monitoring the Galactic center. Complementary measurements of Sgr A*'s L'- and Ms (4.7 μm)-band flux densities were obtained on a separate night with the natural guide star AO system. During our observations, Sgr A*-IR,'s flux density showed a wide range of values (2 to 12 mjy at 2.1 μm), which are associated with at least 4 peaks in the infrared emission and are among its highest infrared flux density measurements. However, all our near-infrared color measurements are consistent with a constant spectral slope of α = -0.9 ± 0.2 (Fν propto να), independent of intensity, wavelength, time, or outburst. Assuming that the infrared wavelengths probe synchrotron emission, we interpret the lack of variation in the infrared spectral index as an indication that the acceleration mechanism leaves the distribution of the bulk of the electrons responsible for the infrared emission unchanged. During our coordinated infrared observations, no elevated X-ray emission was detected. While the less frequent X-ray outbursts have shown correlated emission in previous studies, the lack of X-ray variation during the significant infrared variations reported here indicates that one may not be able to connect the infrared and X-ray emission to the same electrons. We suggest that while the acceleration mechanism leaves the bulk of the electron energy distribution unchanged, it generates a variable high-energy tail. It is this high-energy tail that gives rise to the less frequent X-ray outbursts.
    Journal of Physics Conference Series 12/2006; DOI:10.1088/1742-6596/54/1/063
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    ABSTRACT: Using the newly commisioned Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics (LGS-AO) system and the facility near-infrared camera (NIRC2) on the W. M. Keck II telescope, we have obtained a time series of diffraction-limited, high signal-to-noise ratio images of the near-infrared emission associated with the supermassive black hole at the Galactic center (SgrA*-IR). Over the course of 120 minutes, we imaged SgrA*-IR in the broad-bandpass filters H[1.6 mu m], K'[2.1 mu m], and L'[3.8 mu m] every 3 minutes, which allowed us to investigate the time-dependent and flux-dependent properties of SgrA*-IR. During these observations, Sgr A*-IR showed continuous flux density variations, ranging from 2 to 12 mJy (dereddened) in the K'-band images, without achieving any steady state level during the entire period of observations. Additional L'- and Ms[4.7 mu m]-band images were obtained on a separate night using NIRC2 with the Natural Guide Star AO system. Using these data sets to investigate the near-infrared spectral slope, alpha , where Fnu ∝ nu alpha , of the emission arriving from SgrA*-IR, we find no significant change in the spectral slope during any of the observations in which H{Sgr A*-IR} or K'{Sgr A*-IR} >= 5 mJy; we find alpha = -0.7 ± 0.2, -0.4 ± 0.1, & -0.5 ± 0.7 for the H-K', K'-L', and L'-Ms light curves, respectively. Below 5 mJy, background emission, most likely from the underlying stellar population, contaminates the photometry of Sgr A*-IR at the shorter wavelengths (as SgrA*-IR is much redder than the stellar emission). These results imply that a) there is no spectral break from 1.6 - 4.6 mu m and b) the spectral slope is independent of the strength of Sgr A*-IR's emission from K=5-12 mJy. These results, coupled with the lack of steady state emission as well as the lack of any periodicity, support the hypothesis that all of the emission seen at IR wavelengths is due to synchrotron emission from a stochastically injected population of high-energy, non-thermal electrons.
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    ABSTRACT: We present new proper motions for the apparently massive, young stars at the Galactic Center, based on observations obtained with the Keck laser guide star-adaptive optics (LGS-AO) system. Our proper motion measurements now have uncertainties of only 1-2 km/s, thanks to the LGS-AO observations that have allowed us to retroactively increase the accuracy, by a factor of ˜10, and precision of over 10 years of speckle astrometry. With new proper motions, we explore the origin of these young stars, which is challenging given that the strong tidal forces of the supermassive black hole should suppress star formation. Their presence, however, may be explained either by star formation in an accretion disk or as the remnants of a massive stellar cluster which spiraled in via dynamical friction. Earlier stellar velocity vectors were used to postulate that all the young stars resided in two counter-rotating stellar disks, which would be consistent with both of the above formation scenarios. Our precise proper motions allow us, for the first time, to constrain the true orbit of each individual star and test the hypothesis that the massive stars reside in two counter-rotating stellar disks. We find that all 9 of the young stars in this study previously proposed to lie on the inner disk exhibit orbital constraints consistent with such a disk. On the other hand, of the 3 stars in this study previously proposed to lie in the outer disk, 2 exhibit inclinations that are inconsistent with such a disk, bringing into question the exsitance of the outer disk. Additionally, most stars in the inner disk have eccentric orbits. Although infalling cluster formation scenarios allow for eccentric orbits, accretion disk formation scenarios typically imply circular orbits, which is not supported by the observations.

Publication Stats

95 Citations
12.56 Total Impact Points


  • 2007
    • University of California, Los Angeles
      • Division of Astronomy & Astrophysics
      Los Angeles, California, United States