A VLT-ULTRACAM study of the fast optical quasi-periodic oscillations in the polar V834 Centauri

Quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs) of a few seconds have been detected in some Polars, the synchronised subclass of cataclysmic systems containing a strongly magnetised white dwarf (WD) which accretes matter from a red dwarf companion. The QPOs are thought to be related to instabilities of a shock formed in the accretion column, close to the WD photosphere above the impact region. We present optical observations of the polar V834 Centauri performed with the fast ULTRACAM camera mounted on the ESO-VLT simultaneously in three filters (u', He II 4686A, r') to study these oscillations and characterise their properties along the orbit. Fast Fourier transforms and wavelet analysis have been performed and the mean frequency, rms amplitude, and coherence of the QPOs are derived; a detailed inspection of individual pulses has also been performed. The observations confirm the probable ubiquity of the QPOs for this source at all epochs when the source is in a high state, with observed mean amplitude of 2.1 percent (r'), 1.5 percent (He II), and 0.6 percent (u'). Trains of oscillations are clearly observed in the r' light curve and can be mimicked by a superposition of damped sinusoids with various parameters. The QPO energy distribution is comparable to that of the cyclotron flux, consistent for the r' and He II filters but requiring a significant dilution in the u' filter. New 1D hydrodynamical simulations of shock instabilities, adapted to the physical parameters of V834 Cen, can account for the optical QPO amplitude and X-ray upper limit assuming a cross section of the accretion column in the range (4-5) E14 cm2. However, the predicted frequency is larger than the observed one by an order of magnitude. This shortcoming indicates that the QPO generation is more complex than that produced in a homogeneous column and calls for a more realistic 3D treatment of the accretion flow in future modelling.

Comments: 14 pages, 15 figures, accepted for publication in A&A

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