A Hubble Space Telescope survey for novae in M87-III. Are novae good standard candles 15 d after maximum brightness?

Michael M. Shara*, Trisha F. Doyle, Ashley Pagnotta, James T. Garland, Tod R. Lauer, David Zurek, Edward A. Baltz, Ariel Goerl, Attay Kovetz, Tamara Machac, Juan P. Madrid, Joanna Mikołajewska, J. D. Neill, Dina Prialnik, D. L. Welch, Ofer Yaron

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ten weeks of daily imaging of the giant elliptical galaxy M87 with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has yielded 41 nova light curves of unprecedented quality for extragalactic cataclysmic variables. We have recently used these light curves to demonstrate that the observational scatter in the so-called maximum-magnitude rate of decline (MMRD) relation for classical novae is so large as to render the nova-MMRD useless as a standard candle. Here, we demonstrate that a modified Buscombe-de Vaucouleurs hypothesis, namely that novae with decline times t2 > 10 d converge to nearly the same absolute magnitude about two weeks after maximum light in a giant elliptical galaxy, is supported by our M87 nova data. For 13 novae with daily sampled light curves, well determined times of maximum light in both the F606W and F814W filters, and decline times t2 > 10 d we find that M87 novae display M606W,15 = -6.37 ± 0.46 and M814W,15 = -6.11 ± 0.43. If very fast novae with decline times t2 < 10 d are excluded, the distances to novae in elliptical galaxies with stellar binary populations similar to those of M87 should be determinable with 1s accuracies of ± 20 per cent with the above calibrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1746-1751
Number of pages6
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2018


FundersFunder number
Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.NAS 5-26555
Ethel Lipsitz
Polish NCNDEC-2013/10/M/ST9/00086
Science Research and Mentoring Programme
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
American Museum of Natural History
Space Telescope Science Institute


    • Cataclysmic variables
    • Novae
    • Techniques: imaging spectroscopy


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