Time-Resolved Properties and Global Trends in dMe Flares from Simultaneous Photometry and Spectra
Kowalski, Adam Francis
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We present a homogeneous survey of near-ultraviolet (NUV) /optical line and continuum emission during twenty M dwarf flares with simultaneous, high cadence photometry and spectra. These data were obtained to study the white-light continuum components to the blue and red of the Balmer jump to break the degeneracy with fitting emission mechanisms to broadband colors and to provide constraints for radiative-hydrodynamic flare models that seek to reproduce the white-light flare emission. The main results from the continuum analysis are the following: 1) the detection of Balmer continuum (in emission) that is present during all flares, with a wide range of relative contribution to the continuum flux in the NUV; 2) a blue continuum at the peak of the photometry that is linear with wavelength from λ = 4000 Å to λ = 4800 Å, matched by the spectral shape of hot, blackbody emission with typical temperatures of 10 000 - 12 000 K; 3) a redder continuum apparent at wavelengths longer than Hβ; this continuum becomes relatively more important to the energy budget during the late gradual phase. The hot blackbody component and redder continuum component (which we call "the conundruum") have been detected in previous UBVR colorimetry studies of flares. With spectra, one can compare the properties and detailed timings of all three components. Using time-resolved spectra during the rise phase of three flares, we calculate the speed of an expanding flare region assuming a simple geometry; the speeds are found to be approx. 5 - 10 km s^-1 and approx. 50 - 120 km s^-1, which are strikingly consistent with the speeds at which two-ribbon flares develop on the Sun. The main results from the emission line analysis are 1) the presentation of the "time-decrement", a relation between the timescales of the Balmer series; 2) a Neupert-like relation between Ca II K and the blackbody continuum, and 3) the detection of absorption wings in the Hydrogen Balmer lines during times of peak continuum emission, indicative of hot-star spectra forming during the flare. A byproduct of this study is a new method for deriving absolute fluxes during M dwarf flare observations obtained from narrow-slit spectra or during variable weather conditions. This technique allows us to analyze the spectra and photometry independently of one another, in order to connect the spectral properties to the rise, peak, and decay phases of broadband light curve morphology. We classify the light curve morphology according to an "impulsiveness index" and find that the fast (impulsive) flares have less Balmer continuum at peak emission than the slow (gradual) flares. In the gradual phase, the energy budget of the flare spectrum during almost all flares has a larger contribution from the Hydrogen Balmer component than in the impulsive phase, suggesting that the heating and cooling processes evolve over the course of a flare. We find that, in general, the evolution of the hot blackbody is rapid, and that the blackbody temperature decreases to approx. 8000 K in the gradual phase. The Balmer continuum evolves more slowly than the blackbody - similar to the higher order Balmer lines but faster than the lower order Balmer lines. The height of the Balmer jump increases during the gradual decay phase. We model the Balmer continuum emission using the RHD F11 model spectrum from Allred et al. (2006), but we discuss several important systematic uncertainties in relating the apparent amount of Balmer continuum to a given RHD beam model. Good fits to the shape of the RHD F11 model spectrum are not obtained at peak times, in contrast to the gradual phase. We model the blackbody component using model hot star atmospheres from Castelli & Kurucz (2004) in order to account for the effects of flux redistribution in the flare atmosphere. This modeling is motivated by observations during a secondary flare in the decay phase of a megaflare, when the newly formed flare spectrum resembled that of Vega with the Balmer continuum and lines in absorption. We model this continuum phenomenologically with the RH code using hot spots placed at high column mass in the M dwarf quiescent atmosphere; a superposition of hot spot models and the RHD model are used to explain the anti-correlation in the apparent amount of Balmer continuum in emission and the U-band light curve. We attempt to reproduce the blackbody component in self-consistent 1D radiative hydrodynamic flare models using the RADYN code. We simulate the flare using a solar-type nonthermal electron beam heating function with a total energy flux of 10^12 ergs cm^-2 s^-1 (F12) for a duration of 5 seconds and a subsequent gradual phase. Although there is a larger amount of NUV backwarming at log m_c/(1g cm^-2) approx 0 than in the F11 model, the resulting flare continuum shape is similar to the F11 model spectrum with a larger Balmer jump and a much redder spectral shape than is seen in the observations. We do not find evidence of white-light emitting chromospheric condensations, in contrast to the previous F12 model of Livshits et al. (1981). We discuss future avenues for RHD modeling in order to produce a hot blackbody component, including the treatment of nonthermal protons in M dwarf flares.
- Astronomy