Journal Article

On the evolutionary status of short-period cataclysmic variables

S. P. Littlefair, V. S. Dhillon, T. R. Marsh, B. T. Gänsicke, John Southworth, I. Baraffe, C. A. Watson and C. Copperwheat

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 388, issue 4, pages 1582-1594
Published in print August 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online August 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
On the evolutionary status of short-period cataclysmic variables

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We present high-speed, three-colour photometry of seven short-period (Porb≤ 95 min) eclipsing cataclysmic variables (CVs) from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. We determine the system parameters via a parametrized model of the eclipse fitted to the observed light curve by χ2 minimization. Three out of seven of the systems possess brown dwarf donor stars and are believed to have evolved past the orbital period minimum. This is in line with the predictions that 40–70 per cent of CVs should have evolved past the orbital period minimum. Therefore, the main result of our study is that the missing population of post-period minimum CVs has finally been identified. The donor star masses and radii are, however, inconsistent with model predictions; the donor stars are approximately 10 per cent larger than expected across the mass range studied here. One explanation for the discrepancy is the enhanced angular momentum loss (e.g. from circumbinary discs); however, the mass-transfer rates, as deduced from white dwarf effective temperatures, are not consistent with enhanced angular momentum loss. We show that it is possible to explain the large donor radii without invoking enhanced angular momentum loss by a combination of geometrical deformation and the effects of starspots due to strong rotation and expected magnetic activity. Choosing unambiguously between these different solutions will require independent estimates of the mass-transfer rates in short-period CVs.

The white dwarfs in our sample show a strong tendency towards high masses. We show that this is unlikely to be due to selection effects. The dominance of high-mass white dwarfs in our sample implies that erosion of the white dwarf during nova outbursts must be negligible, or even that white dwarfs grow in mass through the nova cycle. Amongst our sample, there are no helium-core white dwarfs, despite predictions that 30–80 per cent of short-period CVs should contain helium-core white dwarfs. We are unable to rule out selection effects as the cause of this discrepancy.

Keywords: binaries: close; binaries: eclipsing; stars: dwarf novae; novae, cataclysmic variables

Journal Article.  10150 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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