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Published October 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

Recurring millimeter flares as evidence for star-star magnetic reconnection events in the DQ Tauri PMS binary system


Observations of the T Tauri spectroscopic binary DQ Tau in April 2008 captured an unusual flare at 3 mm, which peaked at an observed maximum flux of ~0.5 Jy (about 27 times the quiescent value). Here we present follow-up millimeter observations that demonstrate a periodicity to the phenomenon. While monitoring 3 new periastron encounters, we have detected flares within 17.5 h (or 4.6%) of the orbital phase of the first reported flare and constrained the main emitting region to a stellar height of 3.7–6.8 R_*. The recorded activity is consistent with the proposed picture for synchrotron emission initiated by a magnetic reconnection event when the two stellar magnetospheres of the highly eccentric (e = 0.556) binary are believed to collide near periastron as the stars approach a minimum separation of 8 R_* (~13 R_⊙). The similar light curve decay profiles allow us to estimate an average flare duration of 30 h. Assuming one millimeter flare per orbit, DQ Tau could spend approximately 8% of its 15.8-day orbital period in an elevated flux state. These findings continue to serve as a small caution for millimeter flux points in spectral energy distributions that could contain unrecognized flare contributions. Our analysis of the millimeter emission provides an upper limit of 5% on the linear polarization. We discuss the extent to which a severely entangled magnetic field structure and Faraday rotation effects are likely to reduce the observed polarization fraction. We also predict that, for the current picture, the stellar magnetospheres must be misaligned at a significant angle or, alternatively, that the topologies of the outer magnetospheres are poorly described by a well-ordered dipole inside a radius of 7 R_*. Finally, to investigate whether reorganization of the magnetic field during the interaction affects mass accretion, we also present simultaneous optical (VRI) monitoring of the binary, as an established tracer of accretion activity in this system. We find that an accretion event can occur coincident in both time and duration with the synchrotron fallout of a magnetic reconnection event. While the pulsed accretion mechanism has been attributed previously to the dynamical motions of the stars alone, the similarities between the millimeter and optical light curves evoke the possibility of a causal or co-dependent relationship between the magnetospheric and dynamical processes.

Additional Information

© 2010 ESO. Received 10 June 2010; Accepted 2 August 2010. Published online 18 October 2010. We would like to thank Vincent Piétu and Jan-Martin Winters at IRAM for their assistance in scheduling and carrying out the observations, as well as Sascha Trippe for help with the PdBI data reduction and analysis. At CARMA we are grateful to Lee Mundy and Nikolaus Volgenau for their assistance in acquiring the data in Director's discretionary time. We would like to thank the observing staff at Teide Observatory for the IAC80 observations, including Álex Oscoz Abad, Cristina Zurita, and Rafael Barrena Delgado. At Wellesley College, we are grateful to Kim McLeod, Wendy Bauer, Steve Slivan and the undergraduate observers Kirsten Levandowski, Kelsey Turbeville, and Kathryn Neugent. Finally, we thank Y. Boehler, A. Dutrey, V. Piétu and S. Guilloteau for communicating data prior to publication. Financial support for travel to Wellesley and IRAM for observational duties was provided by a Leids Sterrekunde Fonds grant. The research of D.M.S., A.K., and M.R.H. is supported through a VIDI grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

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August 22, 2023
October 21, 2023