Taking a break: paused accretion in the symbiotic binary RT Cru

A. Pujol, G. J. M. Luna, K. Mukai, J. L. Sokoloski, N. P. M. Kuin, F. M. Walter, R. Angeloni, Y. Nikolov, R. Lopes de Oliveira, N. E. Nuñez, M. Jaque Arancibia, T. Palma, L. Gramajo

Submitted on 23 November 2022


Symbiotic binaries sometimes hide their symbiotic nature for significant periods of time. There is mounting observational evidence that in those symbiotics that are powered solely by accretion of red-giant's wind material onto a white dwarf, without any quasi-steady shell burning on the surface of the white dwarf, the characteristic emission lines in the optical spectrum can vanish, leaving the semblance of an isolated red giant spectrum. Here we present compelling evidence that this disappearance of optical emission lines from the spectrum of RT Cru during 2019 was due to a decrease in the accretion rate, which we derive by modeling the X-ray spectrum. This drop in accretion rate leads to a lower flux of ionizing photons and thus to faint/absent photoionization emission lines in the optical spectrum. We observed the white dwarf symbiotic RT Cru with XMM-Newton and Swift in X-rays and UV and collected ground-based optical spectra and photometry over the last 33 years. This long-term coverage shows that during most of the year 2019, the accretion rate onto the white dwarf was so low, M˙=(3.2±0.06)×1011 M yr1 (d/2.52 kpc)2, that the historically detected hard X-ray emission almost vanished, the UV flux faded by roughly 5 magnitudes, the U, B and V flickering amplitude decreased, and the Balmer lines virtually disappeared from January through March 2019. Long-lasting low-accretion episodes as the one reported here may hamper the chances of RT Cru experiencing nova-type outburst despite the high-mass of the accreting white dwarf.


Comment: Accepted in A&A

Subjects: Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena; Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics


Schematic view of the datasets used in this study, where filler black squares highlight the years of the observation obtained from a given instrument, database or literature. Blue squares mark the year of the optical spectroscopic data.