Magnetospheric accretion and spin-down of the prototypical classical T Tauri star AA Tau

J. F. Donati, M. B. Skelly, J. Bouvier, S. G. Gregory, K. N. Grankin, M. M. Jardine, G. A.J. Hussain, F. Ménard, C. Dougados, Y. Unruh, S. Mohanty, M. Aurière, J. Morin, R. Farès

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


From observations collected with the ESPaDOnS spectropolarimeter at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and with the NARVAL spectropolarimeter at the Télescope Bernard Lyot (TBL), we report the detection of Zeeman signatures on the prototypical classical T Tauri star AA Tau, both in photospheric lines and accretion-powered emission lines. Using time series of unpolarized and circularly polarized spectra, we reconstruct at two epochs maps of the magnetic field, surface brightness and accretion-powered emission of AA Tau. We find that AA Tau hosts a 2-3 kG magnetic dipole tilted at -20° to the rotation axis, and of presumably dynamo origin. We also show that the magnetic poles of AA Tau host large cool spots at photospheric level and accretion regions at chromospheric level.The accretion rate at the surface of AA Tau at the time of our observations (estimated from the emission in the He-i-D3 line mainly) is strongly variable, ranging from -9.6 to -8.5 and equal to -9.2 in average (in logarithmic scale and in M--yr-1); this is an order of magnitude smaller than the disc accretion rate at which the magnetic truncation radius (below which the disc is disrupted by the stellar magnetic field) matches the corotation radius (where the Keplerian period equals the stellar rotation period) - a necessary condition for accretion to occur. It suggests that AA Tau is largely in the propeller regime, with most of the accreting material in the inner disc regions being expelled outwards and only a small fraction accreted towards the surface of the star. The strong variability in the observed surface mass accretion rate and the systematic time-lag of optical occultations (by the warped accretion disc) with respect to magnetic and accretion-powered emission maxima also support this conclusion.Our results imply that AA Tau is being actively spun-down by the star/disc magnetic coupling and appears as an ideal laboratory for studying angular momentum losses of forming suns in the propeller regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1361
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: imaging
  • Stars: individual: AA Tau
  • Stars: magnetic field
  • Stars: rotation
  • Techniques: polarimetric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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