EDP Sciences
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Volume 485, Number 1, July I 2008
Page(s) 223 - 231
Section Stellar structure and evolution
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200809863
Published online 06 May 2008

A&A 485, 223-231 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200809863

Detectability of gamma-ray emission from classical novae with Swift/BAT

F. Senziani1, 2, 3, 4, G. K. Skinner5, 6, P. Jean4, and M. Hernanz7

1  Università di Pavia, Dipartimento di Fisica Nucleare e Teorica, via Agostino Bassi 6, 27100 Pavia, Italy
2  Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS), V. le Lungo Ticino Sforza 56, 27100 Pavia, Italy
3  INAF - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, via Bassini 15, 20133 Milano, Italy
    e-mail: senziani@iasf-milano.inaf.it
4  CESR/Université Toulouse III, 9 avenue du Colonel Roche, 31028 Toulouse, France
5  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 661, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
6  CRESST/Dept. of Astronomy, University of Maryland CP, College Park, MD 20742, USA
7  IEEC-CSIC, Campus UAB, Fac. Cienc., C5-par, 2on, 08193 Bellaterra, Spain

Received 27 March 2008 / Accepted 21 April 2008

Context. Classical novae are expected to emit gamma rays during their explosions. The most important contribution to the early gamma-ray emission comes from the annihilation with electrons of the positrons generated by the decay of 13N and 18F. The photons are expected to be down-scattered to a few tens of keV, and the emission is predicted to occur some days before the visual discovery and to last ~2 days. Despite a number of attempts, no positive detections of such emission have been made, due to lack of sensitivity and of sky coverage.
Aims. Because of its huge field of view, good sensitivity, and well-adapted (14-200 keV) energy band, Swift/BAT offers a new opportunity for such searches. BAT data can be retrospectively used to search for prompt gamma-ray emission from the direction of novae after their optical discovery.
Methods. We have estimated the expected success rate for the detection with BAT of gamma rays from classical novae using a Monte Carlo approach. Searches were performed for emission from novae occurring since the launch of Swift.
Results. Using the actual observing programme during the first 2.3 years of BAT operations as an example, and sensitivity achieved, we estimate the expected rate of detection of classical novae with BAT as ~ $0.2{-}0.5~{\rm yr}^{-1}$, implying that several should be seen within a 10 yr mission. The search for emission in the directions of the 24 classical novae discovered since the Swift launch yielded no positive results, but none of these was known to be close enough for this to be a surprise. Detections of a recurrent nova (RS Oph) and a nearby dwarf nova (V455 And) demonstrate the efficacy of the technique.
Conclusions. The absence of detections is consistent with the expectations from the Monte Carlo simulations, but the long-term prospects are encouraging given an anticipated Swift operating lifetime of ~10 years.

Key words: gamma rays: observations -- nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances -- stars: novae, cataclysmic variables -- stars: white dwarfs

© ESO 2008

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