Detection of accretion X-rays from QS Vir: Cataclysmic or a lot of hot air?

Marco Matranga, Jeremy J. Drake, Vinay Kashyap, Danny Steeghs

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An XMM-Newton observation of the nearby "pre-cataclysmic" short-period (P orb = 3.62 hr) binary QS Vir (EC 13471-1258) revealed regular narrow X-ray eclipses when the white dwarf passed behind its M2-4 dwarf companion. The X-ray emission provides a clear signature of mass transfer and accretion onto the white dwarf. The low-resolution XMM-Newton EPIC spectra are consistent with a cooling flow model and indicate an accretion rate of Ṁ = 1.7 × 10-13 yr-1. At 48 pc distant, QS Vir is then the second nearest accreting cataclysmic variable known, with one of the lowest accretion rates found to date for a non-magnetic system. To feed this accretion through a wind would require a wind mass-loss rate of Ṁ ∼ 2 × 10-12 yr-1 if the accretion efficiency is of the order of 10%. Consideration of likely mass-loss rates for M dwarfs suggests this is improbably high and pure wind accretion unlikely. A lack of accretion disk signatures also presents some difficulties for direct Roche lobe overflow. We speculate that QS Vir is on the verge of Roche lobe overflow, and that the observed mass transfer could be supplemented by upward chromospheric flows on the M dwarf, analogous to spicules and mottles on the Sun, that escape the Roche surface to be subsequently swept up into the white dwarf Roche lobe. If so, QS Vir would be in a rare evolutionary phase lasting only a million years. The X-ray luminosity of the M dwarf estimated during primary eclipse is L X = 3 × 1028ergs-1, which is consistent with that of rapidly rotating "saturated" K and M dwarfs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number132
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • binaries: close
  • binaries: eclipsing
  • novae, cataclysmic variables
  • stars: winds, outflows
  • X-rays: binaries

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