Time-resolved spectroscopy of the pulsating CV GW Lib

Lieke van Spaandonk, D. Steeghs, Thomas R. Marsh, Manuel A P Torres

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We present time-resolved optical spectroscopy of the dwarf nova GW Librae during its rare 2007 April superoutburst and compare these with quiescent epochs. The data provide the first opportunity to track the evolution of the principal spectral features. In the early stages of the outburst, the optically thick disc dominates the optical and the line components show clear orbital radial velocity excursions. In the course of several weeks, optically thin regions become more prominent as strong emission lines replace the broad disc absorption. Post-outburst spectroscopy covering the I band illustrates the advantages of Ca ii relative to the commonly used Balmer lines when attempting to constrain binary parameters. Due to the lower ionization energy combined with smaller thermal and shear broadening of these lines, a sharp emission component is seen to be moving in between the accretion disc peaks in the Ca ii line. No such component is visible in the Balmer lines. We interpret this as an emission component originating on the hitherto unseen mass donor star. This emission component has a mean velocity of ∼ -15 ± 5 km s-1 which is associated with the systemic velocity γ, and a velocity semi-amplitude of Kem = 82.2 ± 4.9 km s-1. Doppler tomography reveals an asymmetric accretion disc, with the S-wave mapping to a sharp spot in the tomogram with a velocity consistent to what is obtained with line profile fitting. A centre of symmetry analysis of the disc component suggests a very small value for the WD orbital velocity K1 as is also inferred from double Gaussian fits to the spectral lines. While our conservative dynamical limits place a hard upper limit on the binary mass ratio of q < 0.23, we favour a significantly lower value near q ∼ 0.06. Pulsation modelling suggests a white dwarf mass ∼1 M. This, paired with a low-mass donor, near the empirical sequence of an evolved cataclysmic variable close to the period bounce, appears to be consistent with all the observational constraints to date.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1857-1868
Number of pages12
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Binaries: spectroscopic
  • Novae, cataclysmic variables
  • Stars: individual: GW Lib

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