Nature 442, 279-281 (20 July 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04949; Received 6 April 2006; Accepted 31 May 2006

An asymmetric shock wave in the 2006 outburst of the recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi

T. J. O'Brien1, M. F. Bode2, R. W. Porcas3, T. W. B. Muxlow1, S. P. S. Eyres4, R. J. Beswick1, S. T. Garrington1, R. J. Davis1 and A. Evans5

  1. Jodrell Bank Observatory, School of Physics & Astronomy, The University of Manchester, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 9DL, UK
  2. Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University, Twelve Quays House, Birkenhead, CH41 1LD, UK
  3. Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, D-53121 Bonn, Germany
  4. Centre for Astrophysics, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, PR1 2HE, UK
  5. Astrophysics Group, School of Physical & Geographical Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK

Correspondence to: T. J. O'Brien1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to T.J.O'B. (Email: tim.obrien@manchester.ac.uk).

Nova outbursts1 take place in binary star systems comprising a white dwarf and either a low-mass Sun-like star or, as in the case of the recurrent nova RS Ophiuchi2, a red giant. Although the cause of these outbursts is known to be thermonuclear explosion of matter transferred from the companion onto the surface of the white dwarf3, models of the previous (1985) outburst of RS Ophiuchi failed to adequately fit the X-ray evolution4 and there was controversy over a single-epoch high-resolution radio image, which suggested that the remnant was bipolar5, 6 rather than spherical as modelled. Here we report the detection of spatially resolved structure in RS Ophiuchi from two weeks after its 12 February 2006 outburst. We track an expanding shock wave as it sweeps through the red giant wind, producing a remnant similar to that of a type II supernova but evolving over months rather than millennia7. As in supernova remnants, the radio emission is non-thermal (synchrotron emission), but asymmetries and multiple emission components clearly demonstrate that contrary to the assumptions of spherical symmetry in models of the 1985 explosion, the ejection is jet-like, collimated by the central binary whose orientation on the sky can be determined from these observations.


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