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CV Types and Abbreviations

posted Mar 27, 2009, 2:09 PM by Mike Simonsen
This first group of types and definitions is from the General Catalog of Variable Stars

(N) Novae

Close binary systems with orbital periods from 0.05 to 230 days. One of the components of these systems is a hot dwarf star that suddenly, during a time interval from one to several dozen or several hundred days, increases its brightness by 7-19 mag in V, then returns gradually to its former brightness over several months, years, or decades. Small changes at minimum light may be present. Cool components may be giants, subgiants, or dwarfs of K-M type. The spectra of novae near maximum light resemble A-F absorption spectra of luminous stars at first. Then broad emission lines (bands) of hydrogen, helium, and other elements with absorption components indicating the presence of a rapidly expanding envelope appear in the spectrum. As the light decreases, the composite spectrum begins to show forbidden lines characteristic of the spectra of gas nebulae excited by hot stars. At minimum light, the spectra of novae are generally continuous or resemble the spectra of Wolf-Rayet stars. Only spectra of the most massive systems show traces of cool components.

Some novae reveal pulsations of hot components with periods of approximately 100 s and amplitudes of about 0.05 mag in V after an outburst. Some novae eventually turn out to be eclipsing systems. According to the features of their light variations, novae are subdivided into fast (NA), slow (NB), very slow (NC), and recurrent (NR) categories.


Fast novae displaying rapid light increases and then, having achieved maximum light, fading by 3 mag in 100 or fewer days (GK Per);


Slow novae that fade after maximum light by 3 mag in >= 150 days (RR Pic). Here the presence of the well-known "dip" in the light curves of novae similar to T Aur and DQ Her is not taken into account: The rate of fading is estimated on the basis of a smooth curve, its parts before and after the "dip" being a direct continuation of one another;


Novae with a very slow development and remaining at maximum light for more than a decade, then fading very slowly. Before an outburst these objects may show long-period light changes with amplitudes of 1-2 mag in V (RR Tel); cool components of these systems are probably giants or supergiants, sometimes semiregular variables, and even Mira variables. Outburst amplitudes may reach 10 mag. High excitation emission spectra resemble those of planetary nebulae, Wolf-Rayet stars, and symbiotic variables. The possibility that these objects are planetary nebulae in the process of formation is not excluded;


Novalike variables, which are insufficiently studied objects resembling novae by the characteristics of their light changes or by spectral features. This type includes, in addition to variables showing novalike outbursts, objects with no bursts ever observed; the spectra of novalike variables resemble those of old novae, and small light changes resemble those typical for old novae at minimum light. However, quite often a detailed investigation makes it possible to reclassify some representatives of this highly inhomogeneous group of objects into other types;

(NR) Recurrent Novae

Recurrent novae, which differ from typical novae by the fact that two or more outbursts (instead of a single one) separated by 10-80 years have been observed (T CrB).

(SN) Supernovae

Supernovae (B Cas, CM Tau). Stars that increase, as a result of an outburst, their brightnesses by 20 mag and more, then fade slowly. The spectrum during an outburst is characterized by the presence of very broad emission bands, their widths being several times greater than those of the bright bands observed in the spectra of novae. The expansion velocities of SN envelopes are in the thousands of km/s. The structure of a star after outburst alters completely. An expanding emission nebula results and a (not always observable) pulsar remains at the position of the original star. According to the light curve shape and the spectral features, supernovae are subdivided into types I and II.


Type I supernovae. Absorption lines of Ca II, Si, etc., but no hydrogen lines are present in the spectra. The expanding envelope almost lacks hydrogen. During 20-30 days following maximum light, the brightness decreases by approximately 0.1 mag per day, then the rate of fading slows and reaches a constant value of 0.014/day;


Type II supernovae. Lines of hydrogen and other elements are apparent in their spectra. The expanding envelope consists mainly of H and He. Light curves show greater diversity than those of type I supernovae. Usually after 40-100 days since maximum light, the rate of fading is 0.1 mag per day.

(UG) U Geminorum

U Geminorum-type variables, quite often called dwarf novae. They are close binary systems consisting of a dwarf or subgiant K-M star that fills the volume of its inner Roche lobe and a white dwarf surrounded by an accretion disk. Orbital periods are in the range 0.05-0.5 days. Usually only small, in some cases rapid, light fluctuations are observed, but from time to time the brightness of a system increases rapidly by several magnitudes and, after an interval of from several days to a month or more, returns to the original state. Intervals between two consecutive outbursts for a given star may vary greatly, but every star is characterized by a certain mean value of these intervals, i.e., a mean cycle that corresponds to the mean light amplitude. The longer the cycle, the greater the amplitude. These systems are frequently sources of X-ray emission. The spectrum of a system at minimum is continuous, with broad H and He emission lines. At maximum these lines almost disappear or become shallow absorption lines. Some of these systems are eclipsing, possibly indicating that the primary minimum is caused by the eclipse of a hot spot that originates in the accretion disk from the infall of a gaseous stream from the K-M star. According to the characteristics of the light changes, U Gem variables may be subdivided into three types: SS Cyg, SU UMa, and Z Cam.

(UGSS) U Gem, SS Cygni sub-type

SS Cygni-type variables (SS Cyg, U Gem). They increase in brightness by 2-6 mag in V in 1-2 days and in several subsequent days return to their original brightnesses. The values of the cycle are in the range 10 days to several thousand;

(UGSU) U Gem, SU Urase Majoris sub-type

SU Ursae Majoris-type variables. These are characterized by the presence of two types of outbursts called "normal" and "supermaxima". Normal, short outbursts are similar to those of UGSS stars, while supermaxima are brighter by 2 mag, are more than five times longer (wider), and occur several times less frequently. During supermaxima the light curves show superposed periodic oscillations (superhumps), their periods being close to the orbital ones and amplitudes being about 0.2-0.3 mag in V. Orbital periods are shorter than 0.1 days; companions are of dM spectral type;

(UGZ) U Gem, Z Camelopardalis sub-type

Z Camelopardalis-type stars. These also show cyclic outbursts, differing from UGSS variables by the fact that sometimes after an outburst they do not return to the original brightness, but during several cycles retain a magnitude between maximum and minimum. The values of cycles are from 10 to 40 days, while light amplitudes are from 2 to 5 mag in V.

(AM) AM Herculis- also called polars

AM Her type variables; close binary systems consisting of a dK-dM type dwarf and of a compact object with strong magnetic field, characterized by variable linear and circular polarization of light. The total range of light variations may reach 4-5 mag V.

Although not officially recognized by the GCVS these types are commonly in use:

(UGWZ) U Gem, WZ Sagittae sub-type

A variety of UGSU in which the interval between super-outbursts is unusually long, measured in decades, while normal outbursts are few and far between. Observations of the 1978 outburst revealed super-humps in WZ Sge's light curve, which are the defining characteristics of SU UMa type dwarf novae; thus WZ Sge is now considered the prototype for a subset of the SU UMa class. Other WZ Sge stars include AL Com and EG Cnc, which have super-outburst intervals of approximately 20 years.

The approximately 30-year supercycle length that WZ Sge displays is the most inactive group of the SU UMa type stars. The factor determining the different timescales appears to be mass-transfer rate. WZ Sge stars have a very low mass-transfer rate, perhaps only 1012 kg/s. Given the slow rate of mass-transfer, it would then take decades to accumulate enough material for a super-outburst. The puzzle of these stars, however, is why they show few or no normal outbursts during this interval. Even with a low mass-transfer rate, material should accumulate, drifting viscously into the inner disc, and trigger an outburst. One suggestion for why this does not occur is that the disk viscosity is very low. The material would then remain in the outer disc, where much more can be stored before an outburst is triggered. The problem with this idea, however, is to explain the extremely low viscosity level. Another possible explanation involves the removal of the inner disc, to prevent outbursts starting there. This could occur through siphons or because of a magnetic field on the white dwarf.

UGSU(ER) UGSU, ER UMa sub-type

A variety of UGSU in which the interval between superoutbursts is unusually short. ER UMa stars typically spend a third to a half their time in super-outburst, with a super-cycle (the interval between super-outbusts) of only 20 to 50 days. When not in super-outburst these stars show frequent normal outbursts - about one every 4 days.

(DQ) DQ Herculis- also known as IP, intermediate polars

In the intermediate polars (which are thought to have lower magnetic fields than the polars), the spin period of the white dwarf is shorter than the orbital period. The accretion process in the intermediate polars is through a disc with a disrupted inner radius (where the magnetic field is powerful enough to influence the flow of the gas), or an accretion stream as in the polars. The intermediate polars with the shortest spin periods are the DQ Herculis stars.

Additional notes:

Systems exhibiting eclipses are commonly indicated as UG+E, UGSU+E, UGSS+E, etc.

If the type is uncertain, or there is uncertainty between two possible types, this is indicated by a colon following the type or types (UG:, UGSU:, UGSU:/UGWZ:, N:/UGWZ:, NR:/UGWZ:, etc.)