Ken J. Shen

University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, United States

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Publications (19)182.55 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: We constrain the properties of the progenitor system of the highly reddened Type Ia supernova (SN) 2014J in Messier 82 (M82; d ~ 3.5 Mpc). We determine the SN location using Keck-II K-band adaptive optics images, and we find no evidence for flux from a progenitor system in pre-explosion near-ultraviolet through near-infrared Hubble Space Telescope (HST) images. Our upper limits exclude systems having a bright red giant companion, including symbiotic novae with luminosities comparable to that of RS Ophiuchi. While the flux constraints are also inconsistent with predictions for comparatively cool He-donor systems (T < 35,000 K), we cannot preclude a system similar to V445 Puppis. The progenitor constraints are robust across a wide range of R_V and A_V values, but significantly greater values than those inferred from the SN light curve and spectrum would yield proportionally brighter luminosity limits. Pre-explosion HST infrared images yield more stringent constraints on the luminosities of very cool (T < 3000 K) companion stars than was possible in the case of SN Ia 2011fe.
    03/2014;
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    Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: The progenitor channel responsible for the majority of Type Ia supernovae is still uncertain. One emergent scenario involves the detonation of a He-rich layer surrounding a C/O white dwarf, which sends a shock wave into the core. The quasi-spherical shock wave converges and strengthens at an off-center location, forming a second, C-burning, detonation that disrupts the whole star. In this paper, we examine this second detonation of the double detonation scenario using a combination of analytic and numeric techniques. We perform a spatially resolved study of the imploding shock wave and outgoing detonation and calculate the critical imploding shock strengths needed to achieve a core C detonation. We find that He detonations in recent two-dimensional simulations yield converging shock waves that are strong enough to ignite C detonations in C/O cores, with the caveat that a truly robust answer requires multi-dimensional detonation initiation calculations. We also find that, due to the greatly increased difficulty of igniting O-burning, convergence-driven detonations in O/Ne cores are far harder to achieve and are perhaps unrealized in standard binary evolution.
    The Astrophysical Journal 05/2013; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We report the discovery by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) of the transient source PTF11agg, which is distinguished by three primary characteristics: (1) bright, rapidly fading optical transient emission; (2) a faint, blue quiescent optical counterpart; and (3) an associated year-long, scintillating radio transient. We argue that these observed properties are inconsistent with any known class of Galactic transients, and instead suggest a cosmological origin. The detection of incoherent radio emission at such distances implies a large emitting region, from which we infer the presence of relativistic ejecta. The observed properties are all consistent with the population of long-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), marking the first time such an outburst has been discovered in the distant universe independent of a high-energy trigger. We searched for possible high-energy counterparts to PTF11agg, but found no evidence for associated prompt emission. We therefore consider three possible scenarios to account for a GRB-like afterglow without a high-energy counterpart: an "untriggered" GRB (lack of satellite coverage), an "orphan" afterglow (viewing-angle effects), and a "dirty fireball" (suppressed high-energy emission). The observed optical and radio light curves appear inconsistent with even the most basic predictions for off-axis afterglow models. The simplest explanation, then, is that PTF11agg is a normal, on-axis long-duration GRB for which the associated high-energy emission was simply missed. However, we have calculated the likelihood of such a serendipitous discovery by PTF and find that it is quite small (~ 2.6%). While not definitive, we nonetheless speculate that PTF11agg may represent a new, more common (> 4 times the on-axis GRB rate at 90% confidence) class of relativistic outbursts lacking associated high-energy emission.
    The Astrophysical Journal 04/2013; 769(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Upon formation, degenerate He core white dwarfs are surrounded by a radiative H-rich layer primarily supported by ideal gas pressure. In this Letter, we examine the effect of this H-rich layer on mass transfer in He+C/O double white dwarf binaries that will eventually merge and possibly yield a Type Ia supernova (SN Ia) in the double detonation scenario. Because its thermal profile and equation of state differ from the underlying He core, the H-rich layer is transferred stably onto the C/O white dwarf prior to the He core's tidal disruption. We find that this material is ejected from the binary system and sweeps up the surrounding interstellar medium hundreds to thousands of years before the SN Ia. The close match between the resulting circumstellar medium profiles and values inferred from recent observations of circumstellar absorption in SNe Ia gives further credence to the resurgent double detonation scenario.
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters 02/2013; 770(2). · 6.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The merger of two white dwarfs (WDs) creates a differentially rotating remnant which is unstable to magnetohydrodynamic instabilities. These instabilities can lead to viscous evolution on a time-scale short compared to the thermal evolution of the remnant. We present multi-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations of the evolution of WD merger remnants under the action of an $\alpha$-viscosity. We initialize our calculations using the output of eight WD merger simulations from Dan et al. (2011), which span a range of mass ratios and total masses. We generically find that the merger remnants evolve towards spherical states on time-scales of hours, even though a significant fraction of the mass is initially rotationally supported. The viscous evolution unbinds only a very small amount of mass $(< 10^{-5} M_\odot)$. Viscous heating causes some of the systems we study with He WD secondaries to reach conditions of nearly dynamical burning. It is thus possible that the post-merger viscous phase triggers detonation of the He envelope in some WD mergers, potentially producing a Type Ia supernova via a double detonation scenario. Our calculations provide the proper initial conditions for studying the long-term thermal evolution of WD merger remnants. This is important for understanding WD mergers as progenitors of Type Ia supernovae, neutron stars, R Coronae Borealis stars and other phenomena.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 07/2012; 427(1). · 5.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: SN 2002es is a peculiar subluminous Type Ia supernova (SN Ia) with a combination of observed characteristics never before seen in a SN Ia. At maximum light, SN 2002es shares spectroscopic properties with the underluminous SN 1991bg subclass of SNe Ia, but with substantially lower expansion velocities (~6000 km/s) more typical of the SN 2002cx subclass. Photometrically, SN 2002es differs from both SN 1991bg-like and SN 2002cx-like supernovae. Although at maximum light it is subluminous (M_B=-17.78 mag), SN 2002es has a relatively broad light curve (Dm15(B)=1.28 +/- 0.04 mag), making it a significant outlier in the light-curve width vs. luminosity relationship. We estimate a 56Ni mass of 0.17 +/- 0.05 M_sun synthesized in the explosion, relatively low for a SN Ia. One month after maximum light, we find an unexpected plummet in the bolometric luminosity. The late-time decay of the light curves is inconsistent with our estimated 56Ni mass, indicating that either the light curve was not completely powered by 56Ni decay or the ejecta became optically thin to gamma-rays within a month after maximum light. The host galaxy is classified as an S0 galaxy with little to no star formation, indicating the progenitor of SN 2002es is likely from an old stellar population. We also present a less extensive dataset for SN 1999bh, an object which shares similar observed properties. Both objects were found as part of the Lick Observatory Supernova Search, allowing us to estimate that these objects should account for ~2.5% of SNe Ia within a fixed volume. We find that current theoretical models are unable to explain the observed of characteristics of SN 2002es.
    The Astrophysical Journal 02/2012; 751(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Nature 12/2011; 480:348-350. · 38.60 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: While a white dwarf is, from a theoretical perspective, the most plausible primary star in Type Ia supernova (SN Ia), many other candidates have not been formally ruled out. Shock energy deposited in the envelope of any exploding primary contributes to the early SN brightness and, since this radiation energy is degraded by expansion after the explosion, the diffusive luminosity depends on the initial primary radius. We present a new non-detection limit of the nearby SN Ia 2011fe, obtained what appears to be just 4 hours after explosion, allowing us to directly constrain the initial primary radius, R_p. Coupled with the non-detection of a quiescent X-ray counterpart and the inferred synthesized Ni mass, we show that R_p <~ 0.02 R_sun (a factor of 5 smaller than previously inferred), that the average density of the primary must be rho_p > 10,000 gm cm^{-3}, and that the effective temperature must be less than a few x 10^5 K. This rules out hydrogen burning main sequence stars and giants. Constructing the helium-burning main sequence and carbon-burning main sequence, we find such objects are also excluded. By process of elimination, we find that only degeneracy-supported compact objects---WDs and neutron stars---are viable as the primary star of SN 2011fe. With few caveats, we also restrict the companion (secondary) star radius to R_ c <~ 0.1 R_sun, excluding Roche-Lobe overflowing red giant and main-sequence companions to high significance.
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters 11/2011; 744. · 6.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In this paper, we present a model for the long-term evolution of the merger of two unequal mass C/O white dwarfs (WDs). After the dynamical phase of the merger, magnetic stresses rapidly redistribute angular momentum, leading to nearly solid-body rotation on a viscous timescale of 1e-4 to 1 yr, long before significant cooling can occur. Due to heating during the dynamical and viscous phases, the less massive WD is transformed into a hot, slowly rotating, and radially extended envelope supported by thermal pressure. Following the viscous phase of evolution, the maximum temperature near the envelope base may already be high enough to begin off-center convective carbon-burning. If not, Kelvin-Helmholtz contraction of the inner region of the envelope on a thermal timescale of 1e3-1e4 yr compresses the base of the envelope, again yielding off-center burning. As a result, the long-term evolution of the merger remnant is similar to that seen in previous calculations: the burning shell diffuses inwards over ~1e4 yr, eventually yielding a high-mass O/Ne WD or a collapse to a neutron star. During the cooling and shell-burning phases, the merger remnant radiates near the Eddington limit. Given the double WD merger rate of a few per 1000 yr, tens of these ~1e38 erg/s sources should exist in a Milky Way-type galaxy. While the end result is similar to that of previous studies, the physical picture and the dynamical state of the matter in our model differ from previous work. Furthermore, remaining uncertainties related to the convective structure near the photosphere and mass loss during the thermal evolution may significantly affect our conclusions. Thus, future work within the context of the physical model presented here is required to better address the eventual fate of double WD mergers, including those for which one or both of the components is a He WD.
    The Astrophysical Journal 08/2011; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Type-IIn supernovae (SNe IIn), which are characterized by strong interaction of their ejecta with the surrounding circumstellar matter (CSM), provide a unique opportunity to study the mass-loss history of massive stars shortly before their explosive death. We present the discovery and follow-up observations of an SN IIn, PTF 09uj, detected by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF). Serendipitous observations by Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) at ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths detected the rise of the SN light curve prior to the PTF discovery. The UV light curve of the SN rose fast, with a timescale of a few days, to a UV absolute AB magnitude of about –19.5. Modeling our observations, we suggest that the fast rise of the UV light curve is due to the breakout of the SN shock through the dense CSM (n 1010 cm–3). Furthermore, we find that prior to the explosion the progenitor went through a phase of high mass-loss rate (~0.1 M ☉ yr–1) that lasted for a few years. The decay rate of this SN was fast relative to that of other SNe IIn.
    The Astrophysical Journal 11/2010; 724(2):1396. · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We present the discovery, photometric and spectroscopic follow-up observations of SN 2010X (PTF 10bhp). This supernova decays exponentially with tau_d=5 days, and rivals the current recordholder in speed, SN 2002bj. SN 2010X peaks at M_r=-17mag and has mean velocities of 10,000 km/s. Our light curve modeling suggests a radioactivity powered event and an ejecta mass of 0.16 Msun. If powered by Nickel, we show that the Nickel mass must be very small (0.02 Msun) and that the supernova quickly becomes optically thin to gamma-rays. Our spectral modeling suggests that SN 2010X and SN 2002bj have similar chemical compositions and that one of Aluminum or Helium is present. If Aluminum is present, we speculate that this may be an accretion induced collapse of an O-Ne-Mg white dwarf. If Helium is present, all observables of SN 2010X are consistent with being a thermonuclear Helium shell detonation on a white dwarf, a ".Ia" explosion. With the 1-day dynamic-cadence experiment on the Palomar Transient Factory, we expect to annually discover a few such events. Comment: 7 pages, 5 figures, 1 table; submitted to ApJL
    The Astrophysical Journal Letters 09/2010; · 6.35 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Supernovae are thought to arise from two different physical processes. The cores of massive, short-lived stars undergo gravitational core collapse and typically eject a few solar masses during their explosion. These are thought to appear as type Ib/c and type II supernovae, and are associated with young stellar populations. In contrast, the thermonuclear detonation of a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, whose mass approaches the Chandrasekhar limit, is thought to produce type Ia supernovae. Such supernovae are observed in both young and old stellar environments. Here we report a faint type Ib supernova, SN 2005E, in the halo of the nearby isolated galaxy, NGC 1032. The 'old' environment near the supernova location, and the very low derived ejected mass ( approximately 0.3 solar masses), argue strongly against a core-collapse origin. Spectroscopic observations and analysis reveal high ejecta velocities, dominated by helium-burning products, probably excluding this as a subluminous or a regular type Ia supernova. We conclude that it arises from a low-mass, old progenitor, likely to have been a helium-accreting white dwarf in a binary. The ejecta contain more calcium than observed in other types of supernovae and probably large amounts of radioactive (44)Ti.
    Nature 05/2010; 465(7296):322-5. · 38.60 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: During the early evolution of an AM CVn system, helium is accreted onto the surface of a white dwarf under conditions suitable for unstable thermonuclear ignition. The turbulent motions induced by the convective burning phase in the He envelope become strong enough to influence the propagation of burning fronts and may result in the onset of a detonation. Such an outcome would yield radioactive isotopes and a faint rapidly rising thermonuclear ".Ia" supernova. In this paper, we present hydrodynamic explosion models and observable outcomes of these He shell detonations for a range of initial core and envelope masses. The peak UVOIR bolometric luminosities range by a factor of 10 (from 5e41 - 5e42 erg/s), and the R-band peak varies from M_R,peak = -15 to -18. The rise times in all bands are very rapid (<10 d), but the decline rate is slower in the red than the blue due to a secondary near-IR brightening. The nucleosynthesis primarily yields heavy alpha-chain elements (40Ca through 56Ni) and unburnt He. Thus, the spectra around peak light lack signs of intermediate mass elements and are dominated by CaII and TiII features, with the caveat that our radiative transfer code does not include the non-thermal effects necessary to produce He features. Comment: Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal; 9 pages, 9 figures; v2: Minor changes to correct typos and clarify content
    The Astrophysical Journal 02/2010; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: AM Canum Venaticorum (AM CVn) binaries consist of a degenerate helium donor and a helium, C/O, or O/Ne WD accretor, with accretion rates of Mdot = 1e-13 - 1e-5 Msol/yr. For accretion rates < 1e-6 Msol/yr, the accreted helium ignites unstably, resulting in a helium flash. As the donor mass and Mdot decrease, the ignition mass increases and eventually becomes larger than the donor mass, yielding a "last-flash" ignition mass of < 0.1 Msol. Bildsten et al. (2007) predicted that the largest outbursts of these systems will lead to dynamical burning and thermonuclear supernovae. In this paper, we study the evolution of the He-burning shells in more detail. We calculate maximum achievable temperatures as well as the minimum envelope masses that achieve dynamical burning conditions, finding that AM CVn systems with accretors > 0.8 Msol will undergo dynamical burning. Triple-alpha reactions during the hydrostatic evolution set a lower limit to the 12C mass fraction of 0.001 - 0.05 when dynamical burning occurs, but core dredge-up may yield 12C, 16O, and/or 20Ne mass fractions of ~ 0.1. Accreted 14N will likely remain 14N during the accretion and convective phases, but regardless of 14N's fate, the neutron-to-proton ratio at the beginning of convection is fixed until the onset of dynamical burning. During explosive burning, the 14N will undergo 14N(a,g)18F(a,p)21Ne, liberating a proton for the subsequent 12C(p,g)13N(a,p)16O reaction, which bypasses the relatively slow alpha-capture onto 12C. Future hydrodynamic simulations must include these isotopes, as the additional reactions will reduce the Zel'dovich-von Neumann-Doring (ZND) length, making the propagation of the detonation wave more likely. Comment: Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, 10 pages, 8 figures; v2: Minor changes to correct typos and clarify content
    The Astrophysical Journal 03/2009; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Ken J. Shen, Irit Idan, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: Binary evolution predicts a population of helium core (M < 0.5 M sun) white dwarfs (WDs) that are slowly accreting hydrogen-rich material from low-mass main-sequence or brown dwarf donors with orbital periods less than 4 hr. Four binaries are presently known in the Milky Way that will reach such a mass-transferring state in a few Gyr. Despite these predictions and observations of progenitor binaries, there are still no secure cases of helium core WDs among the mass-transferring cataclysmic variables. This led us to calculate the fate of He WDs once accretion begins at a rate \dot{M}1000 yr) stable burning phase occurs after the CN outburst, potentially explaining enigmatic short orbital period supersoft sources like RX J0537-7034 (P orb = 3.5 hr) and 1E 0035.4-7230 (P orb = 4.1 hr).
    The Astrophysical Journal 01/2009; 705(1):693-703. · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: The accretion of hydrogen-rich matter onto C/O and O/Ne white dwarfs in binary systems leads to unstable thermonuclear ignition of the accreted envelope, triggering a convective thermonuclear runaway and a subsequent classical, recurrent, or symbiotic nova. Prompted by uncertainties in the composition at the base of the accreted envelope at the onset of convection, as well as the range of abundances detected in nova ejecta, we examine the effects of varying the composition of the accreted material. For high accretion rates and carbon mass fractions < 0.002, we find that carbon, which is usually assumed to trigger the runaway via proton captures, is instead depleted and converted to 14N. Additionally, we quantify the importance of 3He, finding that convection is triggered by 3He+3He reactions for 3He mass fractions > 0.002. These different triggering mechanisms, which occur for critical abundances relevant to many nova systems, alter the amount of mass that is accreted prior to a nova, causing the nova rate to depend on accreted composition. Upcoming deep optical surveys such as Pan-STARRS-1, Pan-STARRS-4, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope may allow us to detect the dependence of nova rates on accreted composition. Furthermore, the burning and depletion of 3He with a mass fraction of 0.001, which is lower than necessary for triggering convection, still has an observable effect, resulting in a pre-outburst brightening in disk quiescence to > Lsun and an increase in effective temperature to 6.5e4 K for a 1.0 Msun white dwarf accreting at 1e-8 Msun/yr.
    The Astrophysical Journal 05/2008; 692(1). · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: In our original paper, we neglected to acknowledge the related studies of S. Cassini et al. (ApJ, 660, 1444 [2007]) and L. Piersanti et al. (ApJ, 660, 1444 [2007]), which examined the stability of hydrogen burning on accreting white dwarfs (WDs) via numerical and semianalytical work. Cassisi et al. (1998) found that stable burning occurs for accretion rates between M=2.4×10-8 and 1.2×10-7 Msolar yr-1 for a 0.516 Msolar WD, and between 1.2 and 3.0×10-7 Msolar yr-1 for a 0.8 Msolar WD. Our stably burning range of 4.4×10-8-1.2×10-7 Msolar yr-1 for core mass M=0.516 Msolar is in agreement with theirs, and our results for M=0.8 Msolar are within a few percent of their results. When compared to the solar and lower metallicity results of Piersanti et al. (2000) for M=0.52-0.6 Msolar, our critical M values are higher by ~50%, with the discrepancy again diminishing as the core mass increases. As noted in our comparison to K. Nomoto et al. (ApJ, 660, 1444 [2007]), the difference for low mass,
    The Astrophysical Journal 01/2008; 678(2):1530-1530. · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Helium that accretes onto a Carbon/Oxygen white dwarf in the double white dwarf AM Canum Venaticorum (AM CVn) binaries undergoes unstable thermonuclear flashes when the orbital period is in the 3.5-25 minute range. At the shortest orbital periods (and highest accretion rates, Mdot > 10^-7 Msol/yr), the flashes are weak and likely lead to the Helium equivalent of classical nova outbursts. However, as the orbit widens and Mdot drops, the mass required for the unstable ignition increases, leading to progressively more violent flashes up to a final flash with Helium shell mass ~ 0.02-0.1 Msol. The high pressures of these last flashes allow the burning to produce the radioactive elements 48Cr, 52Fe, and 56Ni that power a faint (M_V in the range of -15 to -18) and rapidly rising (few days) thermonuclear supernova. Current galactic AM CVn space densities imply one such explosion every 5,000-15,000 years in 10^11 Msol of old stars (~ 2-6% of the Type Ia rate in E/SO galaxies). These ".Ia" supernovae (one-tenth as bright for one-tenth the time as a Type Ia supernovae) are excellent targets for deep (e.g. V=24) searches with nightly cadences, potentially yielding an all-sky rate of 1,000 per year. Comment: To appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters; 4 pages, 3 figures. Expected rates somewhat reduced due to lowered galactic density of AM CVn binaries
    The Astrophysical Journal 03/2007; · 6.73 Impact Factor
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    Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten
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    ABSTRACT: One of the challenges to increasing the mass of a white dwarf through accretion is the tendency for the accumulating hydrogen to ignite unstably and potentially trigger mass loss. It has been known for many years that there is a narrow range of accretion rates for which the hydrogen can burn stably, allowing for the white dwarf mass to increase as a pure helium layer accumulates. We first review the physics of stable burning, providing a clear explanation for why radiation pressure stabilization leads to a narrow range of accretion rates for stable burning near the Eddington limit, confirming the recent work of Nomoto and collaborators. We also explore the possibility of stabilization due to a high luminosity from beneath the burning layer. We then examine the impact of the beta-decay-limited ''hot'' CNO cycle on the stability of burning. Though this plays a significant role for accreting neutron stars, we find that for accreting white dwarfs, it can only increase the range of stably-burning accretion rates for metallicities below 0.01 solar metallicity.
    The Astrophysical Journal 02/2007; 660(2). · 6.73 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

64 Citations
182.55 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2011–2013
    • University of California, Berkeley
      • Department of Astronomy
      Berkeley, California, United States
    • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
      • Computational Cosmology Center (C³)
      Berkeley, California, United States
  • 2010
    • Dartmouth College
      • Department of Physics & Astronomy
      Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
  • 2007–2010
    • University of California, Santa Barbara
      • Department of Physics
      Santa Barbara, CA, United States