Fundamental Astronomy of Cataclysmic Binaries

In a cataclysmic binary, a more-or-less normal star orbits a white dwarf so closely that matter spills from the normal star onto the white dwarf. A rich variety of behaviors results -- nova explosions, dwarf nova outbursts, accretion disk precession, magnetic channeling of the accretion flows, and much more. The light grasp and instrumentation at MDM Observatory are well-suited to studies of these objects. For decades now, we have used these facilities to characterize the cataclysmic binary population, mostly measuring orbital periods through velocity spectroscopy -- a procedure that turns up a many interesting and unusual objects, more or less as a byproduct. We have also pioneered CCD parallax measurements of cataclysmics, and broadened that effort to other classes of nearby stars through several collaborations.

FACULTY CONTACT: John Thorstensen