Volume 536, December 2011
|Number of page(s)||16|
|Section||Stellar structure and evolution|
|Published online||06 December 2011|
Post common envelope binaries from SDSS
XI. The white dwarf mass distributions of CVs and pre-CVs
Departamento de Física y AstronomíaFacultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile
2 Departamento de Astronomía y Astrofísica, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
3 European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Cordova 3107, Santiago, Chile
4 Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK
Received: 1 February 2011
Accepted: 2 August 2011
Context. We have known for a long time that many of the measured white dwarf (WD) masses in cataclysmic variables (CVs) significantly exceed the mean mass of single WDs. This was thought to be related to observational biases, but recent high-precision measurements of WD masses in a great number of CVs are challenging this interpretation. A crucial question in this context is whether the high WD masses seen among CVs are already imprinted in the mass distribution of their progenitors, i.e. among detached post-common-envelope binaries (PCEBs) that consist of a WD and a main-sequence star.
Aims. We review the measured WD masses of CVs, determine the WD-mass distribution of an extensive sample of PCEBs that are representative for the progenitors of the current CV population (pre-CVs) and compare both distributions.
Methods. We calculate the CV formation time of the PCEBs in our sample by determining the post common-envelope (CE) and the main-sequence evolution of the binary systems and define a pre-CV to be a PCEB that evolves into a semi-detached configuration with stable mass transfer within less than the age of the Galaxy. Possible observational biases affecting the WD-mass distribution for the pre-CV and the CV samples are discussed.
Results. The mean WD mass among CVs is ⟨ Mwd ⟩ = 0.83 ± 0.23⋆ M⊙, much larger than that found for pre-CVs, ⟨ Mwd ⟩ = 0.67 ± 0.21 M⊙. Selection effects cannot explain the high WD masses observed in CVs. We also note that compared to the predictions of binary-population models, the observed fraction of He-core WDs is small both among CVs (≤10%) and pre-CVs (≤17 ± 8%).
Conclusions. We suggest two possible explanations for the high WD masses among CVs, both of which imply substantial revisions to the standard model of CV evolution: either most CVs have formed above the orbital-period gap (which requires a high WD mass to initiate stable mass transfer or a previous phase of thermal-timescale mass transfer), or the mass of the WDs in CVs grows through accretion (which strongly disagrees with the predictions of classical nova models). Both options may imply that CVs contribute to the single-degenerate progenitors of type Ia supernovae. The number of He-core WDs in CVs (≤10%) is roughly consistent with the number of He-core WDs in pre-CVs (≤17 ± 8%). This indicates a low value of the CE efficiency.
Key words: binaries: close / white dwarfs / novae, cataclysmic variables
© ESO, 2011
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