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Title: Observational studies of highly evolved cataclysmic variables
Author: Uthas, Helena
ISNI:       0000 0004 2707 7446
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2011
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Cataclysmic Variables (CV) are binary systems where a main-sequence star transfers mass onto a white dwarf (WD). According to standard evolutionary theory, angular momentum loss drives CVs to initially evolve from longer to shorter orbital periods until a minimum period is reached (≈ 80 minutes). At roughly this stage, the donors becomes degenerate, expand in size, and the systems move towards longer orbital periods. Theory predicts that 70% of all CVs should have passed their minimum period and have sub-stellar donors, but until recently, no such systems were known. I present one CV showing evidence of harbouring a sub-dwarf donor, SDSS J1507+52. Due to the system’s unusually short orbital period of ≈ 65 minutes, and very high space velocity, two origins for SDSS J1507+52 have been proposed; either the system was formed from a young WD/brown-dwarf binary, or the system is a halo CV. In order to distinguish between these two theories, I present UV spectroscopy and find a metallicity consistent with halo origin. Systems close to the minimum period are expected to be faint and have low accretion rates. Some of these CVs show absorption in their spectra, implying that the underlying WD is exposed. This yields a rare opportunity to study the WD in a CV. I introduce two new systems showing WD signatures in their light curves and spectra, SDSS J1457+51 and BW Sculptoris. Despite the fact that CVs close to the minimum period should be faint, we find systems that aremuch too bright for their orbital periods. Such a system is T Pyxidis – a recurrent nova with an unusually high accretion rate and a photometrically determined period < 2 hours. The systemis ∼ 2 times brighter than any other CV at its period. However, to confirm the status of this unusual star, a more reliable period determination is needed. Here, I present a spectroscopic study of T Pyxidis confirming its evolutionary status as a short-period CV. In this thesis, I discuss what implications these systems may have on the current understanding of CV evolution, and the importance of studying individual systems in general
Supervisor: Knigge, Christian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: QB Astronomy