The Masses and Accretion Rates of White Dwarfs in Classical and Recurrent Novae

Michael M. Shara, Dina Prialnik, Yael Hillman, Attay Kovetz

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Models have long predicted that the frequency-averaged masses of white dwarfs (WDs) in Galactic classical novae are twice as large as those of field WDs. Only a handful of dynamically well-determined nova WDs masses have been published, leaving the theoretical predictions poorly tested. The recurrence time distributions and mass accretion rate distributions of novae are even more poorly known. To address these deficiencies, we have combined our extensive simulations of nova eruptions with the Strope et al. and Schaefer databases of outburst characteristics of Galactic classical and recurrent novae (RNe) to determine the masses of 92 WDs in novae. We find that the mean mass (frequency-averaged mean mass) of 82 Galactic classical novae is 1.06 (1.13) M o, while the mean mass of 10 RNe is 1.31 M o. These masses, and the observed nova outburst amplitude and decline time distributions allow us to determine the long-term mass accretion rate distribution of classical novae. Remarkably, that value is just 1.3 × 10-10 M o yr-1, which is an order of magnitude smaller than that of cataclysmic binaries in the decades before and after classical nova eruptions. This predicts that old novae become low-mass transfer rate systems, and hence dwarf novae, for most of the time between nova eruptions. We determine the mass accretion rates of each of the 10 known Galactic recurrent nova, finding them to be in the range of 10-7-10-8 M o yr-1. We are able to predict the recurrence time distribution of novae and compare it with the predictions of population synthesis models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 20 Jun 2018


FundersFunder number
American Museum of Natural History


    • novae, cataclysmic variables
    • white dwarfs


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