Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc., 471, 3200-3211 (2017/November-1)
Shock-powered light curves of luminous red novae as signatures of pre-dynamical mass-loss in stellar mergers.
METZGER B.D. and PEJCHA O.
Abstract (from CDS):
Luminous red novae (LRN) are a class of optical transients believed to originate from the mergers of binary stars, or 'common envelope' events. Their light curves often show secondary maxima, which cannot be explained in the previous models of thermal energy diffusion or hydrogen recombination without invoking multiple independent shell ejections. We propose that double-peaked light curves are a natural consequence of a collision between dynamically ejected fast shell and pre-existing equatorially focused material, which was shed from the binary over many orbits preceding the dynamical event. The fast shell expands freely in the polar directions, powering the initial optical peak through cooling envelope emission. Radiative shocks from the collision in the equatorial plane power the secondary light-curve peak on the radiative diffusion time-scale of the deeper layers, similar to luminous Type IIn supernovae and some classical novae. Using a detailed 1D analytic model, informed by complementary 3D hydrodynamical simulations, we show that shock-powered emission can explain the observed range of peak time-scales and luminosities of the secondary peaks in LRN for realistic variations in the binary parameters and fraction of the binary mass ejected. The dense shell created by the radiative shocks in the equatorial plane provides an ideal location for dust nucleation consistent with the inferred aspherical geometry of dust in LRN. For giant stars, the ejecta forms dust when the shock-powered luminosity is still high, which could explain the infrared transients recently discovered by Spitzer. Our results suggest that pre-dynamical mass-loss is common if not ubiquitous in stellar mergers, providing insight into the instabilities responsible for driving the binary merger.