Exteme Variables in Star Forming Regions
Contreras Peña, Carlos Eduardo
The notion that low- to intermediate-mass young stellar objects (YSOs) gain mass at a constant rate during the early stages of their evolution appears to be challenged by observations of YSOs suffering sudden increases of the rate at which they gain mass from their circumstellar discs. Also, this idea that stars spend most of their lifetime with a low accretion rate and gain most of their final mass during short-lived episodes of high accretion bursts, helps to solve some long-standing problems in stellar evolution. The original classification of eruptive variables divides them in two separate subclasses known as FU Orionis stars (FUors) and EX Lupi stars (EXors). In this classical view FUors are at an early evolutionary stage and are still gaining mass from their parent envelopes, whilst EXors are thought to be older objects only surrounded by an accretion disc. The problem with this classical view is that it excludes younger protostars which have higher accretion rates but are too deeply embedded in circumstellar matter to be observed at optical wavelengths. Optically invisible protostars have been observed to display large variability in the near-infrared. These and some recent discoveries of new eruptive variables, show characteristics that can be attributed to both of the optically-defined subclasses of eruptive variables. The new objects have been proposed to be part of a new class of eruptive variables. However, a more accepted scenario is that in fact the original classes only represent two extremes of the same phenomena. In this sense eruptive variability could be explained as arising from one physical mechanism, i.e. unsteady accretion, where a variation in the parameters of such mechanism can cause the different characteristics observed in the members of this class. With the aim of studying the incidence of episodic accretion among young stellar objects, and to characterize the nature of these eruptive variables we searched for high amplitude variability in two multi-epoch infrared surveys: the UKIDSS Galactic Plane Survey (GPS) and the Vista Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV). In order to further investigate the nature of the selected variable stars, we use photometric information arising from public surveys at near- to farinfrared wavelengths. In addition we have performed spectroscopic and photometric follow-up for a large subset of the samples arising from GPS and VVV. We analyse the widely separated two-epoch K-band photometry in the 5th, 7th and 8th data releases of the UKIDSS Galactic Plane Survey. We find 71 stars with _K > 1 mag, including 2 previously known OH/IR stars and a Nova. Even though the mid-plane is mostly excluded from the dataset, we find the majority (66%) of our sample to be within known star forming regions (SFRs), with two large concentrations in the Serpens OB2 association (11 stars) and the Cygnus-X complex (27 stars). The analysis of the multi-epoch K-band photometry of 2010-2012 data from VVV covering the Galactic disc at |b| < 1◦ yields 816 high amplitude variables, which include known variables of different classes such as high mass X-ray binaries, Novae and eclipsing binaries among others. Remarkably, 65% of the sample are found concentrated towards areas of star formation, similar to the results from GPS. In both surveys, sources in SFRs show spectral energy distributions (SEDs) that support classification as YSOs. This indicates that YSOs dominate the Galactic population of high amplitude infrared variable stars at low luminosities and therefore likely dominate the total high amplitude population. Spectroscopic follow-up allows us to confirm the pre-main sequence nature of several GPS and VVV Objects. Most objects in both samples show spectroscopic signatures that can be attributed to YSOs undergoing high states of accretion, such as veiling of photospheric features and CO emission, or show FUor-like spectra. We also find a large fraction of objects with 2.12 μm H2 emission that can be explained as arising from shock-excited emission caused by molecular outflows. Whether these molecular outflows are related to outbursts events cannot be confirmed from our data. Adding the GPS and VVV spectroscopic results, we find that between 6 and 14 objects are new additions to the FUor class from their close resemblance to the near-infrared spectra of FUors, and at least 23 more objects are new additions to the eruptive variable class. For most of these we are unable to classify them into any of the original definitions for this variable class. In any case, we are adding up to 37 new stars to the eruptive variable class which would double the current number of known objects. We note that most objects are found to be deeply embedded optically invisible stars, thus increasing the number of objects belonging to this subclass by a much larger factor. In general, objects in our samples which are found to be likely eruptive variable stars show a mixture of characteristics that can be attributed to both of the optically-defined classes. This agrees well with the recent discoveries in the literature. Finally, we are able to derive a first rough estimate on the incidence of episodic accretion among class I YSOs in the star-forming complex G305. We find that _ 9% of such objects are in a state of high accretion. This number is in agreement with previous theoretical and observational estimates among class I YSOs.