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Astron. Astrophys. 364, L75-L79 (2000)

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Letter to the Editor

Assisted stellar suicide: the wind-driven evolution of the recurrent nova T Pyxidis

Ch. Knigge  *  1,2, A.R. King 3 and J. Patterson 2

1 University of Southampton, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
2 Columbia University, Department of Astronomy, 550 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027, USA
3 University of Leicester, Astronomy Group, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

Received 23 June 2000 / Accepted 4 November 2000


We show that the extremely high luminosity of the short-period recurrent nova T Pyx in quiescence can be understood if this system is a wind-driven supersoft x-ray source (SSS). In this scenario, a strong, radiation-induced wind is excited from the secondary star and accelerates the binary evolution. The accretion rate is therefore much higher than in an ordinary cataclysmic binary at the same orbital period, as is the luminosity of the white dwarf primary. In the steady state, the enhanced luminosity is just sufficient to maintain the wind from the secondary. The accretion rate and luminosity predicted by the wind-driven model for T Pyx are in good agreement with the observational evidence. X-ray observations with Chandra or XMM may be able to confirm T Pyx's status as a SSS.

T Pyx's lifetime in the wind-driven state is on the order of a million years. Its ultimate fate is not certain, but the system may very well end up destroying itself, either via the complete evaporation of the secondary star, or in a Type Ia supernova if the white dwarf reaches the Chandrasekhar limit. Thus either the primary, the secondary, or both may currently be committing assisted stellar suicide.

Key words: accretion, accretion disks – stars: binaries: close – stars: novae, cataclysmic variables – stars: individual: – stars: mass-loss – stars: supernovae: general

* Hubble Fellow

Send offprint requests to: C. Knigge

Correspondence to: christian@astro.soton.ac.uk

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: January 29, 2001