The disappearance and reformation of the accretion disc during a low state of FO Aquarii
1 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Observatoire astronomique de Strasbourg, UMR 7550, 67000 Strasbourg, France
2 Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS et Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Paris 06, UMR 7095, 98bis Bd Arago, 75014 Paris, France
3 Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, Polish Academy of Sciences, Bartycka 18, 00-716 Warsaw, Poland
4 Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, Kohn Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
Received: 23 May 2017
Accepted: 3 July 2017
Context. FO Aquarii, an asynchronous magnetic cataclysmic variable (intermediate polar) went into a low state in 2016, from which it slowly and steadily recovered without showing dwarf nova outbursts. This requires explanation since in a low state, the mass-transfer rate is in principle too low for the disc to be fully ionised and the disc should be subject to the standard thermal and viscous instability observed in dwarf novae.
Aims. We investigate the conditions under which an accretion disc in an intermediate polar could exhibit a luminosity drop of two magnitudes in the optical band without showing outbursts.
Methods. We use our numerical code for the time evolution of accretion discs, including other light sources from the system (primary, secondary, hot spot).
Results. We show that although it is marginally possible for the accretion disc in the low state to stay on the hot stable branch, the required mass-transfer rate in the normal state would then have to be extremely high, of the order of 1019 g s-1 or even larger. This would make the system so intrinsically bright that its distance should be much larger than allowed by all estimates. We show that observations of FO Aqr are well accounted for by the same mechanism that we have suggested as explaining the absence of outbursts during low states of VY Scl stars: during the decay, the magnetospheric radius exceeds the circularisation radius, so that the disc disappears before it enters the instability strip for dwarf nova outbursts.
Conclusions. Our results are unaffected, and even reinforced, if accretion proceeds both via the accretion disc and directly via the stream during some intermediate stages; the detailed process through which the disc disappears still requires investigation.
Key words: accretion, accretion disks / stars: dwarf novae / instabilities
© ESO, 2017