• Fiona Healy

Student thesis: Phd


A nova is a cataclysmic variable star consisting of a white dwarf and a main sequence, subgiant or red giant companion. In a nova explosion, the white dwarf undergoes a thermonuclear runaway on its surface, as a result of build-up of accreted material from its companion. This leads to a large expulsion of matter from the WD surface, as well as a dramatic increase in the optical magnitude of the system. In this thesis, 5GHz C-band e-MERLIN observations of two novae (V959 Mon and V339 Del) and one symbiotic star (AG Pegasi) are presented. V959 Mon is a classical nova which was discovered in June 2012 by the Fermi Large Area Telescope as a gamma-ray source. High resolution e-MERLIN images of V959 Mon were made at six epochs following the June 2012 outburst, between 90 and 615 days after the Fermi discovery. The first four e-MERLIN observations revealed a morphology which was aspherical and expanding in the east-west direction. However, in the last two epochs, V959 Mon's ejecta morphology changed from being elongated east-west to being elongated north-south. Constant velocity models fit to measurements of V959 Mon's angular size at each epoch indicated that the expansion rate of the north-south component was significantly slower than that of the east-west component. The e-MERLIN observations of V339 Del and AG Pegasi were not as well resolved as the observations of V959 Mon, and only limited analysis of their ejecta structure was possible. In order to understand the complicated morphology seen in the e-MERLIN observations of V959 Mon, radio emission models of nova ejecta were constructed, and e-MERLIN observations of them were simulated. When constructing the models, two possible explanations for V959 Mon's morphology were explored. Firstly, the possibility was considered that the elongation observed in V959 Mon's ejecta, which changed over time from east- west to north-south, was spurious, resulting from incomplete sampling of the uv plane by e-MERLIN. To investigate this, an expanding spherical shell of ejecta was simulated, the extent to which its shape was distorted in simulated e-MERLIN images of it was investigated. Secondly, emission from an ejecta model featuring two components - one fast-moving component in the east-west direction, and another, more slow-moving component in the north-south direction - was simulated, in order to determine whether such an ejecta structure could result in the morphology seen in the e-MERLIN observations of V959 Mon. It was found that the spherical, Hubble flow model simulations were a reasonably good fit to V959 Mon's light curve, but could not explain the east-west elongation seen in V959 Mon's ejecta at the early epochs. Simulated observations of the two-component model were morphologically similar to V959 Mon, but produced light curves which were much fainter than V959 Mon's, indicating that a more in-depth analysis of two-component models of nova ejecta is necessary.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTimothy O'Brien (Supervisor) & Rob Beswick (Supervisor)


  • Stellar astrophysics
  • Binary
  • e-MERLIN
  • Astrophysics
  • Cataclysmic variable
  • Nova
  • Radio astronomy

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