Colliding Magnetospheres in The Young High-Eccentricity Binary DQ Tau: Abstract and Intro

10 May 2024

This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.


(1) Konstantin V. Getman, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University;

(2) Agnes Kospal, Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, E¨otv¨os Lor´and Research Network (ELKH), MTA Centre of

Excellence, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, and ELTE E¨otv¨os Lor´and University, Institute of Physics;

(3) Nicole Arulanantham, Space Telescope Science Institute;

(4) Dmitry A. Semenov, Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences;

(5) Grigorii V. Smirnov-Pinchukov, Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences;

(6) Sierk E. van Terwisga, Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences.


DQ Tau is a unique young high-eccentricity binary system that exhibits regular magnetic reconnection flares and pulsed accretion near periastron. We conducted NuSTAR, Swift, and Chandra observations during the July 30, 2022 periastron to characterize X-ray, near-ultraviolet (NUV), and optical flaring emissions. Our findings confirm the presence of X-ray super-flares accompanied by substantial NUV and optical flares, consistent with previous discoveries of periastron flares in 2010 and 2021. These observations, supported by new evidence, strongly establish the magnetosphere collision mechanism as the primary driver of magnetic energy release during DQ Tau’s periastron flares. The energetics of the observed X-ray super-flares remain consistent across the three periastrons, indicating recurring energy sources during each passage, surpassing the capabilities of single stars. The observed flaring across multiple bands supports the Adams et al. model for magnetosphere interaction in eccentric binaries. Evidence from modeling and past and current observations suggests that both the mm/X-ray periastron flares and tentatively, the magnetic reconnection-related components of the optical/NUV emissions, conform to the classical solar/stellar non-thermal thick-target model, except for the distinctive magnetic energy source. However, our NuSTAR observations suffered from high background levels, hindering the detection of anticipated non-thermal hard X-rays. Furthermore, we report serendipitous discovery of X-ray super-flares occurring away from periastron, potentially associated with interacting magnetospheres. The current study is part of a broader multi-wavelength campaign, which is planned to investigate the influence of DQ Tau’s stellar radiation on gas-phase ion chemistry within its circumbinary disk.

Keywords: Pre-main sequence stars (1290) — Spectroscopic binary stars (1557) — X-ray stars (1823) — Stellar magnetic fields (1610) — Optical flares (1166) — Ultraviolet transient sources (1854) —- Stellar x-ray flares (1637) — Solar x-ray flares (1816) — Solar flares (1496) — Stellar flares (1603) — Protoplanetary disks (1300)


DQ Tau is a nearby (D = 195 pc; Gaia Collaboration et al. 2023), non-eclipsing, double-lined spectro scopic binary system, consisting of two pre-main sequence (PMS) stars of equal mass (0.6 M⊙) and equal radius (2 R⊙) (Mathieu et al. 1997; Czekala et al. 2016; Pouilly et al. 2023). These stars exhibit spectral types within the range of M0 to K7. The rotational periods of the primary and secondary components are 3 days (K´osp´al et al. 2018) and 4.5 days (Pouilly et al. in prep.), respectively. The orbital period measures 15.8 days. DQ Tau boasts a highly eccentric orbit (e ∼ 0.6) and displays an exceptionally small periastron separation, measuring only about 8 −10 stellar radii (Mathieu et al. 1997; Czekala et al. 2016; Pouilly et al. 2023). Furthermore, the binary components of DQ Tau harbor relatively strong surface magnetic fields, estimated at around 2.5 kG, which give rise to formidable magnetospheres (Pouilly et al. 2023, Pouilly et al. in prep.).

Surrounding DQ Tau is a protoplanetary disk of average size (≤ 100 au), complete with a small 0.3 au cavity (Czekala et al. 2016; K´osp´al et al. 2018; Ballering & Eisner 2019). Large optical and UV brightenings primarily occur at orbital phase (Φ = 0.8 − 1.2), and they are mainly attributed to the pulsed accretion of disk material onto the binary components (Tofflemire et al. 2017; K´osp´al et al. 2018; Muzerolle et al. 2019; Fiorellino et al. 2022). However, far-UV (FUV) observations of DQ Tau with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph onboard HST (HST-COS) showed no correlation between the orbital phase of the binary and the C IV flux, a tracer of mass accretion rate, indicating that some component of the behavior is stochastic (Ardila et al. 2015).

The system exhibits powerful mm/X-ray flares coinciding with periastron passage, attributed to collisions between the magnetospheres of the binary components. The evidence supporting the magnetsophere collision hypothesis includes the recurrence of synchrotron mmband flaring during 4 periastron encounters (Salter et al. 2008, 2010), the recurrence of soft X-ray flaring in 2 periastron encounters (Getman et al. 2011, 2022a), the timing and energy relationships between the mm and X-ray flares, and the consistency observed between the flare loop size and binary separation (Salter et al. 2010; Getman et al. 2011).

Several other young binary systems with high eccentricities have been reported to exhibit enhanced levels of either X-ray, optical/mm, or radio emissions near their periastron passages. Notable examples include ϵ Lupi (Das et al. 2023), a collective study of four binaries (Parenago 523, RX J1622.7-2325 Nw, UZ Tau E, and HD 152404) conducted by Getman et al. (2016), UZ Tau E (K´osp´al et al. 2011), and V773 Tau A (Massi et al. 2008; Adams et al. 2011). In these systems, magnetosphere collision has been proposed as a primary mechanism responsible for generating the magnetic reconnection energy that drives these events.

Modelling studies have shown that PMS X-rays have strong impact on disk ionization and chemistry (Glassgold et al. 2000; Alexander et al. 2014). But most studies assume continuous irradiation without considering the high-amplitude variations in flux and spectrum due to super-flares. A few time-dependent calculations show that disk ionization may respond to sudden large Xray flares (Rab et al. 2017; Waggoner & Cleeves 2022). This may already have been seen. One empirical report of ionization variability has emerged: the H13CO+ abundance of IM Lup’s disk jumped up and down by a factor of 2.5 over months (Cleeves et al. 2017). However, since no concurrent X-ray observations were conducted, the exact cause cannot be definitively ascribed to X-ray flaring.

The occurrence of large X-ray flares in young stars is relatively rare and unpredictable, displaying a stochastic nature (Getman & Feigelson 2021). However, the presence of predictable X-ray super-flares and accretion outbursts in close proximity to periastron passage makes DQ Tau an extraordinary laboratory for investigating the influence of stellar radiation on the gas-phase ion chemistry within its disk.

To achieve this, we conducted a single X-ray observation using the NuSTAR telescope, along with multiple short-duration observations using the Swift telescope in the X-ray, UV, and optical wavelengths. These observations were strategically timed near a specific periastron passage of DQ Tau, taking place in July-August 2022. Additionally, we captured multiple snapshots of the non-periastron portion of DQ Tau’s orbit using the Chandra X-ray telescope. However, we encountered unfavorable weather conditions that limited our ALMA observations to a single short session near periastron. The results from this ALMA observation will be presented in a forthcoming paper.

Meanwhile, building upon the X-ray/UV/optical data acquired in 2022 and the previously obtained X-ray/mm data (Salter et al. 2010; Getman et al. 2011, 2022a), our current study is dedicated to further investigating the origins and energetic properties of X-ray flares, along with their corresponding near-ultraviolet (NUV) and optical flare counterparts, observed within the remarkable young binary system DQ Tau.

The structure of the paper is outlined as follows: Section 2 provides a detailed description of the data reduction and reduction procedures employed for X-ray, UV, and optical analyses. In Section 3, we present the detection of flares and examine their spectral properties. Section 4 offers a comparison between the X-ray periastron flares observed in DQ Tau and super-flares observed in numerous other PMS stars. Finally, Section 5 delves into a discussion surrounding the origin and energetics of the X-ray flares, as well as their associated NUV and optical counterparts.