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MY RESEARCH

My main research interests are twofold: understanding accretion on all scales, and the application of machine learning to astronomy. For the former, I am currently focused on testing the idea that accretion (and ejection) physics is universal across different types of systems, irrespective of the mass, size or compactess of the accretor. For the latter I am currently very interested in Deep Learning, especially when used in combination with Convolutional Neural Networks.



Below are abstracts and links to all my first-author papers. This ADS link lists all of my publicatons.

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Magnetically gated accretion in an accreting `non-magnetic' white dwarf

White dwarfs are often found in binary systems with orbital periods ranging from tens of minutes to hours in which they can accrete gas from their companion stars. In about 15% of these binaries, the magnetic field of the white dwarf is strong enough (>106 Gauss) to channel the accreted matter along field lines onto the magnetic poles. The remaining systems are referred to as 'non-magnetic', since to date there has been no evidence that they have a dynamically significant magnetic field. Here we report an analysis of archival optical observations of the 'non-magnetic' accreting white dwarf in the binary system MV Lyrae (hereafter MV Lyr), whose lightcurve displayed quasi-periodic bursts of ~30 minutes duration every ~2 hours. The observations indicate the presence of an unstable magnetically-regulated accretion mode, revealing the existence of magnetically gated accretion, where disk material builds up around the magnetospheric boundary (at the co-rotation radius) and then accretes onto the white dwarf, producing bursts powered by the release of gravitational potential energy. We infer a surface magnetic field strength for the white dwarf in MV Lyr between 2 x 104 < B < 105 Gauss, too low to be detectable by other current methods. Our discovery provides a new way of studying the strength and evolution of magnetic fields in accreting white dwarfs and extends the connections between accretion onto white dwarfs, young stellar objects and neutron stars, for which similar magnetically gated accretion cysles have been identified.

Nature, 552, 210, 2017
ArXiv


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The peculiar dipping events in the disk-bearing young-stellar object EPIC 204278916

EPIC 204278916 has been serendipitously discovered from its K2 light curve which displays irregular dimmings of up to 65% for ~25 consecutive days out of 78.8 days of observations. For the remaining duration of the observations, the variability is highly periodic and attributed to stellar rotation. The star is a young, low-mass (M-type) pre-main-sequence star with clear evidence of a resolved tilted disk from ALMA observations. We examine the K2 light curve in detail and hypothesise that the irregular dimmings are caused by either a warped inner-disk edge or transiting cometary-like objects in either circular or eccentric orbits. The explanations discussed here are particularly relevant for other recently discovered young objects with similar absorption dips.

ArXiv link

See here for a nice article from IFLScience!

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Accretion-induced variability links young stellar objects, white dwarfs and black holes

The central engines of disc-accreting stellar-mass black holes appear to be scaled down versions of the supermassive black holes that power active galactic nuclei. However, if the physics of accretion is universal, it should also be possible to extend this scaling to other types of accreting systems, irrespective of accretor mass, size, or type. We examine new observations, obtained with Kepler/K2 and ULTRACAM, regarding accreting white dwarfs and young stellar objects. Every object in the sample displays the same linear correlation between the brightness of the source and its amplitude of variability (rms-flux relation) and obeys the same quantitative scaling relation as stellar-mass black holes and active galactic nuclei. We also show that the most important parameter in this scaling relation is the physical size of the accreting object. This establishes the universality of accretion physics from proto-stars still in the star-forming process to the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.
Science Advances link


Interested in listening to the sound of accretion? Go to my Outreach section and experience the sound of feasting black holes, and other stuff!

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Sco X-1 revisited with Kepler, MAXI and HERMES: outflows, time-lags and echoes unveiled

Sco X-1 has been the subject of many multi-wavelength studies in the past, being the brightest persistent extra-solar X-ray source ever observed. Here we revisit Sco X-1 with simultaneous short cadence Kepler optical photometry and MAXI X-ray photometry over a 78 day period, as well as optical spectroscopy obtained with HERMES. We find Sco X-1 to be highly variable in all our datasets. The optical fluxes are clearly bimodal, implying the system can be found in two distinct optical states. These states are generally associated with the known flaring/normal branch X-ray states, although the flux distributions associated with these states overlap. Furthermore, we find that the optical power spectrum of Sco X-1 differs substantially between optical luminosity states. Additionally we find rms-flux relations in both optical states, but only find a linear relation during periods of low optical luminosity. The full optical/X-ray discrete correlation function displays a broad ~12.5 hour optical lag. However during the normal branch phase the X-ray and optical fluxes are anti-correlated, whilst being correlated during the flaring branch. We also performed a Cepstrum analysis on the full Kepler light curve to determine the presence of any echoes within the optical light curve alone. We find significant echo signals, consistent with the optical lags found using the discrete cross-correlation. We speculate that whilst some of the driving X-ray emission is reflected by the disk, some is absorbed and re-processed on the thermal timescale, giving rise to both the observed optical lags and optical echoes.
ArXiv link

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Reversibility of time series: revealing the hidden messages in X-ray binaries and cataclysmic variables

We explore the non-linear, high-frequency, aperiodic variability properties in the three cataclysmic variables MV Lyr, KIC 8751494 and V1504 Cyg observed with Kepler, as well as the X-ray binary Cyg X-1 observed with RXTE. This is done through the use of a high-order Fourier statistic called the bispectrum and its related biphase and bicoherence, as well as the time-skewness statistic. We show how all objects display qualitatively similar biphase trends. In particular all biphase amplitudes are found to be smaller than pi/2, suggesting that the flux distributions for all sources are positively skewed on all observed timescales, consistent with the log-normal distributions expected from the fluctuating accretion disk model. We also find that for all objects the biphases are positive at frequencies where the corresponding power spectral densities display their high frequency break. This suggests that the noise-like flaring observed is rising more slowly than it is falling, and thus not time-reversible. This observation is also consistent with the fluctuating accretion disk model. Furthermore, we observe the same qualitative biphase trends in all four objects, where the biphases display a distinct decrease at frequencies below the high-frequency break in their respective power spectral densities. This behaviour can also be observed in the time-skewness of all four objects. As far as we are aware, there is no immediate explanation for the observed biphase decreases. The biphase decreases may thus suggest that the fluctuating accretion disk model begins to break down at frequencies below the high frequency break.
ArXiv link

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A physical model for the flickering variability in cataclysmic variables

Aperiodic broad-band variability (also known as flickering) is observed throughout all types of accreting compact objects. Many statistical properties of this variability can be naturally explained with the fluctuating accretion disk model, where variations in the mass-transfer rate through the disk are modulated on the local viscous timescale and propagate towards the central compact object. Here, a recently developed implementation of the model is applied for the first time to the time-averaged, high-frequency variability of a cataclysmic variable star (MV Lyrae) observed with the Kepler satellite. A qualitatively good fit to the data is achieved, suggesting the presence of geometrically thick inner flow with large viscosity parameter, extending from ∼0.12 solar radii all the way to the white dwarf surface. A simple spectral model of the system suggests that the geometrically thick component would not contribute much to the observed optical flux originating from the geometrically thin outer disk. Instead, X-ray reprocessing from the geometrically thick disk onto the thin disk is proposed as a mechanism to explain the observed variability. Similar flows are also deduced in accreting neutron stars/black holes (X-ray binaries) and Active Galactic Nuclei. Additionally, eclipse mapping studies of cataclysmic variables also seem to suggest the presence of a geometrically extended flow towards the inner-edges of the accretion disk. The fluctuating accretion disk model applied here is encouraging in understanding the origin of flickering in cataclysmic variables, as well as in X-ray binaries and Active Galactic Nuclei, by providing a unifying scheme by which to explain the observed broad-band variability features observed throughout all compact accreting systems.
ArXiv link

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Kepler observations of the eclipsing cataclysmic variable

KIS J192748.53+444724.5

We present results from long cadence Kepler observations covering 97.6 days of the newly discovered eclipsing cataclysmic variable KIS J192748.53+444724.5/KIC 8625249. We detect deep eclipses of the accretion disk by the donor star every 3.97 hours. Additionally, the Kepler observations also cover a full outburst for this cataclysmic variable, making KIS J192748.53+444724.5 the second known eclipsing cataclysmic variable system in the Kepler field of view. We show how in quiescence a significant component associated to the hot-spot is visible preceding the eclipse, and that this component is swamped by the brightness increase during the outburst, potentially associated with the accretion disk. Furthermore we present evidence for accretion disk radius changes during the outburst by analysing the out-of-eclipse light levels and eclipse depth through each orbital cycle. We show how these parameters are linearly correlated in quiescence, and discuss how their evolution during the outburst is suggesting disk radius changes and/or radial temperature gradient variations in the disk.
ArXiv link

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Discovery of Fourier-dependent time lags in cataclysmic variables

We report the first study of Fourier-frequency-dependent coherence and phase/time lags at optical wavelengths of cataclysmic variables (MV Lyr and LU Cam) displaying typical flickering variability in white light. Observations were performed on the William Herschel Telescope using ULTRACAM. Lightcurves for both systems have been obtained with the SDSS filters u′, g′ and r′ simultaneously with cadences between ~0.5−2 seconds, and allow us to probe temporal frequencies between ~10^{-3} Hz and ~1 Hz. We find high levels of coherence between the u', g' and r' lightcurves up to at least ~10^{-2} Hz. Furthermore we detect red/negative lags where the redder bands lag the bluer ones at the lowest observed frequencies. For MV Lyr time lags up to ~3 seconds are observed, whilst LU Cam displays larger time lags of ~10 seconds. Mechanisms which seek to explain red/negative lags observed in X-ray binaries and Active Galactic Nuclei involve reflection of photons generated close to the compact object onto the surface layers of the accretion disk, where the lag delay is simply the light-travel time from the emitting source to the reflecting accretion disk area. Although this could be a viable explanation for the lags observed in MV Lyr, the lags observed in LU Cam are too large to be explained by reflection from the disk and/or the donor star. We suggest reprocessing on the thermal timescale of boundary layer photons onto the accretion disk as a possible mechanism to explain the lags observed in accreting white dwarfs, or reverse (inside-out) shocks within the disk travelling through cooler disk regions as they move outwards.
ArXiv link

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Spectroscopic identifications of blue H-alpha excess sources in the Kepler field-of-view

We present the first results of an ongoing spectroscopic follow-up program of blue H-alpha excess sources within the Kepler field-of-view, in order to identify new cataclysmic variables. Kepler observations of the identified targets in this work will then provide detailed, time-resolved, studies of accretion. Candidates selected from the Kepler-INT Survey were observed with the 4.2 meter William Herschel Telescope. Out of 38 observed candidates, we found 11 new cataclysmic variables reported here for the first time, as well as 13 new quasars. Our target selection has a success rate of 29% when searching for cataclysmic variables, and we show how this can be improved by including photometry obtained with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.
ArXiv link

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Broad-band timing properties of the accreting white dwarf MV Lyrae

We present a broad-band timing analysis of the accreting white dwarf system MV Lyrae based on data obtained with the Kepler satellite. The observations span 633 days at a cadence of 58.8 seconds and allow us to probe 4 orders of magnitude in temporal frequency. The modelling of the observed broad-band noise components is based on the superposition of multiple Lorentzian components, similar to the empirical modelling adopted for X-ray binary systems. We also present the detection of a frequency varying Lorentzian component in the lightcurve of MV Lyrae, where the Lorentzian characteristic frequency is inversely correlated with the mean source flux. Because in the literature similar broad-band noise components have been associated to either the viscous or dynamical timescale for different source types (accreting black holes or neutron stars), we here systematically explore both scenarios and place constraints on the accretion disk structure. In the viscous case we employ the fluctuating accretion disk model to infer parameters for the viscosity and disk scale height, and infer uncomfortably high parameters to be accommodated by the standard thin disk, whilst in the dynamical case we infer a large accretion disk truncation radius of ~10 white dwarf radii. More importantly however, the phenomenological properties between the broad-band variability observed here and in X-ray binaries and Active Galactic Nuclei are very similar, potentially suggesting a common origin for the broad-band variability.
ArXiv link

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The Universal Nature of Accretion-induced Variability: The RMS-Flux Relation in an Accreting White Dwarf

We report the discovery of a linear relationship between the root-mean-square (rms) variability amplitude and the mean flux in the accreting white dwarf binary system MV Lyrae. Our lightcurve, obtained with the Kepler satellite, spans 633 days with quasi-continuous 58.8 second cadence resolution. We show, for the first time, how this cataclysmic variable displays linear rms-flux relations similar to those observed in many other black hole binaries, neutron star binaries and Active Galactic Nuclei. The phenomenological similarity between the rms-flux relation observed here and in other X-ray binaries suggests a common physical origin for the broad-band variability, independent of source type, mass or size of the compact accretor. Furthermore, we infer the viscosity parameter, alpha, and disk scale height, H/R, using two independent methods. In both cases, both values are found to be uncomfortably high to be accommodated by the disk instability model.
ArXiv link

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Confirmation of 1RXS J165443.5-191620 as an intermediate polar and its orbital and spin periods

Aims: We investigate the physical nature of the X-ray emitting source 1RXS J165443.5-191620 through optical photometry and time-resolved spectroscopy. Methods: Optical photometry is obtained from a variety of telescopes all over the world spanning about 27 days. Additionally, time-resolved spectroscopy is obtained from the MDM observatory. Results: The optical photometry clearly displays modulations consistent with those observed in magnetic cataclysmic variables: a low-frequency signal interpreted as the orbital period, a high-frequency signal interpreted as the white dwarf spin period, and an orbital sideband modulation. Our findings and interpretations are further confirmed through optical, time-resolved, spectroscopy that displays H-alpha radial velocity shifts modulated on the binary orbital period. Conclusion: We confirm the true nature of 1RXS J165443.5-191620 as an intermediate polar with a spin period of 546 seconds and an orbital period of 3.7 hours. In particular, 1RXS J165443.5-191620 is part of a growing subset of intermediate polars, all displaying hard X-ray emission above 15keV, white dwarf spin periods below 30 minutes, and spin-to-orbital ratios below 0.1.
ArXiv link

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A new determination of the INTEGRAL/IBIS point source location accuracy

AIMS: To determine the Point Source Location Accuracy (PSLA) for the INTEGRAL/IBIS telescope based on analysis of archival in-flight data. METHODS: Over 40000 individual pointings (science windows) of INTEGRAL/IBIS data were analysed using the latest Off-line Science Analysis software, version 7.0. Reconstructed source positions were then compared against the most accurate positions available, determined from focusing X-ray telescopes. Since the PSLA is a strong function of source detection significance, the offsets from true position were histogrammed against significance, so that the 90% confidence limits could be determined. This has been done for both sources in the fully coded field of view (FCFOV) and partially coded field of view (PCFOV). RESULTS: The PSLA is found to have improved significantly since values derived from early mission data and software for both FCFOV and PCFOV. CONCLUSIONS: This result has implications for observers executing follow-up programs on IBIS sources since the sky area to be searched is reduced by over 50% in some cases.
ArXiv link

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Hard X-ray properties of magnetic cataclysmic variables

Hard X-ray surveys have proven remarkably efficient in detecting intermediate polars and asynchronous polars, two of the rarest type of cataclysmic variable (CV). Here we present a global study of hard X-ray selected intermediate polars and asynchronous polars, focusing particularly on the link between hard X-ray properties and spin/orbital periods. To this end, we first construct a new sample of these objects by cross-correlating candidate sources detected in INTEGRAL/IBIS observations against catalogues of known CVs. We find 23 cataclysmic variable matches, and also present an additional 9 (of which 3 are definite) likely magnetic cataclysmic variables (mCVs) identified by others through optical follow-ups of IBIS detections. We also include in our analysis hard X-ray observations from Swift/BAT and SUZAKU/HXD in order to make our study more complete. We find that most hard X-ray detected mCVs have P_{spin}/P_{orb}<0.1 above the period gap. In this respect we also point out the very low number of detected systems in any band between P_{spin}/P_{orb}=0.3 and P_{spin}/P_{orb}=1 and the apparent peak of the P_{spin}/P_{orb} distribution at about 0.1. The observational features of the P_{spin} - P_{orb} plane are discussed in the context of mCV evolution scenarios. We also present for the first time evidence for correlations between hard X-ray spectral hardness and P_{spin}, P_{orb} and P_{spin}/P_{orb}. An attempt to explain the observed correlations is made in the context of mCV evolution and accretion footprint geometries on the white dwarf surface.
ArXiv link

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Classifying Broad Absorption Line Quasars: Metrics, Issues and a New Catalogue Constructed from SDSS DR5

We apply a recently developed method for classifying broad absorption line quasars (BALQSOs) to the latest QSO catalogue constructed from Data Release 5 of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Our new hybrid classification scheme combines the power of simple metrics, supervised neural networks and visual inspection. In our view the resulting BALQSO catalogue is both more complete and more robust than all previous BALQSO catalogues, containing 3552 sources selected from a parent sample of 28,421 QSOs in the redshift range 1.7$lt;z$lt;4.2. This equates to a raw BALQSO fraction of 12.5%. In the process of constructing a robust catalogue, we shed light on the main problems encountered when dealing with BALQSO classification, many of which arise due to the lack of a proper physical definition of what constitutes a BAL. This introduces some subjectivity in what is meant by the term BALQSO, and because of this, we also provide all of the meta-data used in constructing our catalogue, for every object in the parent QSO sample. This makes it easy to quickly isolate and explore sub-samples constructed with different metrics and techniques. By constructing composite QSO spectra from sub-samples classified according to the meta-data, we show that no single existing metric produces clean and robust BALQSO classifications. Rather, we demonstrate that a variety of complementary metrics are required at the moment to accomplish this task. Along the way, we confirm the finding that BALQSOs are redder than non-BALQSOs and that the raw BALQSO fraction displays an apparent trend with signal-to-noise, steadily increasing from 9% in low signal-to-noise data, up to 15%.
ArXiv link

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ISINA: INTEGRAL Source Identification Network Algorithm

We give an overview of ISINA: INTEGRAL Source Identification Network Algorithm. This machine learning algorithm, using Random Forests, is applied to the IBIS/ISGRI dataset in order to ease the production of unbiased future soft gamma-ray source catalogues. First we introduce the dataset and the problems encountered when dealing with images obtained using the coded mask technique. The initial step of source candidate searching is introduced and an initial candidate list is created. A description of the feature extraction on the initial candidate list is then performed together with feature merging for these candidates. Three training and testing sets are created in order to deal with the diverse timescales encountered when dealing with the gamma-ray sky. Three independent Random Forest are built: one dealing with faint persistent source recognition, one dealing with strong persistent sources and a final one dealing with transients. For the latter, a new transient detection technique is introduced and described: the Transient Matrix. Finally the performance of the network is assessed and discussed using the testing set and some illustrative source examples.
ArXiv link