W Ursae Majoris variable

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A W Ursae Majoris variable, also known as a low mass contact binary, is a type of eclipsing binary variable star. These stars are close binaries of spectral types F, G, or K that share a common envelope of material and are thus in contact with one another. They are termed contact binaries because the two stars touch and transfer mass and energy through the connecting neck, although astronomer R.E. Wilson argues that the term "overcontact" is more appropriate.[1]

The class is divided into two subclasses: A-type and W-type (L. Binnendijk, Veroeffentlichungen der Remeis-Sternwarte zu Bamberg, Nr. 40., p. 36, 1965) A-type W UMa binaries are composed of two stars both hotter than the Sun, having spectral types A or F, and periods of 0.4 to 0.8 day. The W-types have cooler spectral types of G or K and shorter periods of 0.22 to 0.4 day. The difference between the surface temperatures of the components is less than several hundred kelvins. A new subclass was introduced in 1978: B-type. The B-types have larger surface temperature difference. In 2004 the H (high mass ratio) systems were discovered by Sz. Csizmadia and P. Klagyivik (Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vol. 426, pp. 1001–1005 (2004)). The H-types have a higher mass ratio than q=0.72 (q = (secondary's mass)/(primary's mass)) and they have extra angular momentum.

These stars were first shown to follow a period-color relation (shorter period systems are redder) by Olin J. Eggen.[2] In 2012, Terrell, Gross and Cooney published a color-survey of 606 W UMa systems in the Johnson-Cousins photometric system.[3]

Their light curves differ from those of classical eclipsing binaries, undergoing a constant ellipsoidal variation rather than discrete eclipses. This is because the stars are gravitationally distorted by one another, and thus the projected area of the stars is constantly changing. The depths of the brightness minima are usually equal because both stars have nearly equal surface temperatures.

W Ursae Majoris is the prototype of this class.

Designation (name) Constellation Discovery Apparent magnitude (Maximum)[4] Apparent magnitude (Minimum)[5] Range of magnitude Period Spectral types
(eclipsing components)
S Ant Antlia H.M.Paul, 1891 !B9981642236453 6m.27 !B9980786753264 6m.83 !D0005798184952 0.56 !D0004333263016 0.6483489 d
44 Boö (i Boö) Boötes   !B9982421420824 5m.8 !B9981437020096 6m.4 !D0005108256237 0.6 !D0013174554748 0.2678159 d G2V + G2V triple system
ε CrA Corona Australis   !B9984439628642 4m.74 !B9983905620875 5m.0 !D0013470736479 0.26 !D0005252180327 0.5914264 d
TV Pic Pictor Verschuren, 1987 !B9980025822937 7m.37 !B9979811049581 7m.53 !D0018325814637 0.16 !D0001625189294 0.85 d
W UMa Ursa Major   !B9979523071566 7m.75 !B9978622895501 8m.48 !D0003147107448 0.73 !D0010978126084 0.3336 d F8Vp + F8Vp prototype, possible triple system


  1. ^ Wilson, R. E. (2001). "Binary Star Morphology and the Name Overcontact". Information Bulletin on Variable Stars 5076: 1. Bibcode:2001IBVS.5076....1W. 
  2. ^ "Contact Binaries II". 4 July 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Terrell, Dirk; Gross, John; Cooney, Walter (2012). "A BVRCIC Survey of W Ursae Majoris Binaries". Astronomical Journal 143: 99. arXiv:1202.3111. Bibcode:2012AJ....143...99T. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/143/4/99. 
  4. ^ (visual magnitude, unless marked (B) (= blue) or (p) (= photographic))
  5. ^ (visual magnitude, unless marked (B) (= blue) or (p) (= photographic))