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Astron. Astrophys. 358, 221-228 (2000)

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The response of a dwarf nova disc to real mass transfer variations

M.R. Schreiber, B.T. Gänsicke and F.V. Hessman

Universitäts-Sternwarte, Geismarlandstrasse 11, 37083 Göttingen, Germany

Received 13 March 2000 / Accepted 12 April 2000


We present simulations of dwarf nova outbursts taking into account realistic variations of the mass loss rate from the secondary. The mass transfer variation has been derived from 20 years of visual monitoring and from X-ray observations covering various accretion states of the discless cataclysmic variable AM Herculis. We find that the outburst behaviour of a fictitious dwarf nova with the same system parameters as AM Her is strongly influenced by these variations of the mass loss rate. Depending on the mass loss rate, the disc produces either long outbursts, a cycle of one long outburst followed by two short outbursts, or only short outbursts. The course of the transfer rate dominates the shape of the outbursts because the mass accreted during an outburst cycle roughly equals the mass transferred from the secondary over the outburst interval. Only for less than 10% of the simulated time, when the mass transfer rate is nearly constant, the disc is in a quasi-stationary state during which it periodically repeats the same cycle of outbursts. Consequently, assuming that the secondary stars in non-magnetic CV's do not differ from those in magnetic ones, our simulation indicates that probably all dwarf novae are rarely in a stationary state and are constantly adjusting to the prevailing value of the mass transfer rate from the secondary.

Key words: accretion, accretion disks – stars: binaries: close – stars: individual: AM Her – stars: novae, cataclysmic variables

Send offprint requests to: M.R. Schreiber (mschrei@uni-sw.gwdg.de)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: June 26, 2000