The orbital period and system parameters of the recurrent nova T Pyx

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Uthas, Helena ; Knigge, Christian ; Steeghs, Danny (2010)

T Pyx is a luminous recurrent nova that accretes at a much higher rate than is expected for its photometrically determined orbital period of about 1.8 h. We here provide the first spectroscopic confirmation of the orbital period, P = 1.8295 h (f = 13.118368 +/- 1.1 x 10(-5) c d(-1)), based on time-resolved optical spectroscopy obtained at the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan telescope. We also derive an upper limit of the velocity semi-amplitude of the white dwarf, K 1 = 17.9 +/- 1.6 kms(-1), and estimate amass ratio of q = 0.20 +/- 0.03. If the mass of the donor star is estimated using the period-density relation and theoretical main-sequence mass-radius relation for a slightly inflated donor star, we find M-2 = 0.14 +/- 0.03 M-circle dot. This implies a mass of the primary white dwarf of M-1 = 0.7 +/- 0.2 M-circle dot. If the white-dwarf mass is > 1 M-circle dot, as classical nova models imply, the donor mass must be even higher. We therefore rule out the possibility that T Pyx has evolved beyond the period minimum for cataclysmic variables. We find that the system inclination is constrained to be i approximate to 10 degrees, confirming the expectation that T Pyx is a low-inclination system. We also discuss some of the evolutionary implications of the emerging physical picture of T Pyx. In particular, we show that epochs of enhanced mass transfer (like the present) may accelerate or even dominate the overall evolution of the system, even if they are relatively short-lived. We also point out that such phases may be relevant to the evolution of cataclysmic variables more generally.
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