SkyMapper Protected Science Project
Compact and Ultracompact binaries in the Milky Way Galaxy
Paul Groot (Radboud), Danny Steeghs (Warwick), Lilia Ferrario (ANU), Tom Marsh (Warwick), Philipp Podsiadlowski (Oxford), Gijs Nelemans (Radboud), Lars Bildsten (UCSB), Patrick Woudt (UCT), David Buckley (SAAO), Steven Bloemen (Radboud), Gavin Ramsay (Armagh), Ben Stappers (Manchester), P. Jonker (SRON/Radboud), Brian Warner (UCT), Boris Gäsicke (Warwick), Stephane Vennes (CAS), Adela Kawka (CAS)
Compact and Ultracompact binary systems consist of at least one stellar remnant in a very close orbit, with periods less than ~1-6 hours. They can either be detached or semi-detached, and the primary star can be a white dwarf or a neutron star. Depending on the exact binary constellation they are called double degenerates, post common-envelope binaries, AM CVn stars, Cataclysmic Variables, Ultracompact X-ray binaries or recycled pulsars.
The astrophysical significance of these systems is multifold:
- a) they probe the final stages of binary evolution and their absolute and relative abundance in the Milky Way Galaxy allows us to understand the physics of binary evolution.
- b) they are the main source population for low-frequency gravitational wave emission.
- c) they allow an understanding of the occurrence and physics of gravitational tides, which in turn are a probe of the equation of state of dense, cold matter.
- d) they are probes of accretion physics, in particular the effect of chemical composition
- e) they are the source population of supernovae Type Ia, which are not only used to trace the accelerated expansion of the Universe, but also the main source of iron in the Universe.
In the last decade our teams have opened up the study of these objects, both theoretically as well as observationally. The known source populations have doubled to tripled over this period, in particular through the availability of large scale (Northern) optical photometric surveys, radio surveys and the combination of the two. As an example, in the transition radio pulsar systems the combination of having optical and radio data at the same time has been vital in understanding the evolution of these objects. Population numbers are often still low due to their intrinsic rarity, severely limiting population studies. The Southern Hemisphere is virtually unexplored. SkyMapper offers unprecedented opportunities for the detection of new systems in the South. Our aim is to, at least, double the number of known systems and then use them to understand the Galactic population of (ultra)compact binaries as well as the final stages of binary stellar evolution. The SkyMapper sample will complement the study of these systems using the VPHAS+ ESO Public Survey and the GBS Survey, both led by our team. Selection of candidates from SkyMapper will be based on source colours, as well as variability (outbursts/eclipses).
Detailed (high-speed) photometric and spectroscopic optical and radio follow-up is, and will be, obtained with the suite of observational resources to our disposal (ESO, SAAO, MeerKAT+MeerLICHT, Parkes, La Palma and AAO). We will combine these observational studies with detailed population synthesis modelling (Nelemans; Podsiadlowski) as well as in depth modelling of individual systems (e.g. using the MESA code developed by Bildsten et al.).