M Dwarf Flare Continuum Variations on One-second Timescales: Calibrating and Modeling of ULTRACAM Flare Color Indices

Adam F. Kowalski, Michail Mathioudakis, Suzanne L. Hawley, John P. Wisniewski, Vik S. Dhillon, Tom R. Marsh, Eric J. Hilton, Benjamin P. Brown

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48 Citations (Scopus)


We present a large data set of high-cadence dMe flare light curves obtained with custom continuum filters on the triple-beam, high-speed camera system ULTRACAM. The measurements provide constraints for models of the near-ultraviolet (NUV) and optical continuum spectral evolution on timescales of ≈1 s. We provide a robust interpretation of the flare emission in the ULTRACAM filters using simultaneously obtained low-resolution spectra during two moderate-sized flares in the dM4.5e star YZ CMi. By avoiding the spectral complexity within the broadband Johnson filters, the ULTRACAM filters are shown to characterize bona fide continuum emission in the NUV, blue, and red wavelength regimes. The NUV/blue flux ratio in flares is equivalent to a Balmer jump ratio, and the blue/red flux ratio provides an estimate for the color temperature of the optical continuum emission. We present a new “color-color” relationship for these continuum flux ratios at the peaks of the flares. Using the RADYN and RH codes, we interpret the ULTRACAM filter emission using the dominant emission processes from a radiative-hydrodynamic flare model with a high nonthermal electron beam flux, which explains a hot, T ≈ 104 K, color temperature at blue-to-red optical wavelengths and a small Balmer jump ratio as observed in moderate-sized and large flares alike. We also discuss the high time resolution, high signal-to-noise continuum color variations observed in YZ CMi during a giant flare, which increased the NUV flux from this star by over a factor of 100. Based on observations obtained with the Apache Point Observatory 3.5 m telescope, which is owned and operated by the Astrophysical Research Consortium, based on observations made with the William Herschel Telescope operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofsica de Canarias, and observations, and based on observations made with the ESO Telescopes at the La Silla Paranal Observatory under programme ID 085.D-0501(A).
Original languageEnglish
Article number95
Number of pages28
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Early online date23 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2016


  • stars: flare
  • stars: low-mass


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