CBA Center for Backyard Astrophysics



The DQ Herculis Stars

Joseph Patterson

Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

March 1994, Volume 106, Page 209

We review the properties of the DQ Herculis stars: cataclysmic variables containing an accreting, magnetic, rapidly rotating white dwarf. These stars are characterized by strong X-ray emission, high-excitation spectra, and very stable optical and X-ray pulsations in their light curves. There is considerable resemblance to their more famous cousins, the AM Herculis stars, but the latter class is additionally characterized by spin-orbit synchronism and the presence of strong circular polarization. We list eighteen stars passing muster as certain or very likely DQ Her stars. The rotational periods range from 33 s to 2.0 hr. Additional periods can result when the rotating searchlight illuminates other structures in the binary. A single hypothesis explains most of the observed properties: magnetically channeled accretion within a truncated disk. Some accretion flow still seems to proceed directly to the magnetosphere, however. The white dwarfs' magnetic moments are in the range 1032 - 1034 G cm3, slightly weaker than in AM Her stars but with some probable overlap. The more important reason why DQ Hers have broken synchronism is probably their greater accretion rate and orbital separation. The observed Lx/ LV values are surprisingly low for a radially accreting white dwarf, suggesting that most of the accretion energy is not radiated in a strong shock above the magnetic pole. The fluxes can be more satisfactorily explained if most of the radial infall energy manages to bypass the shock and deposit itse lf directly in the white dwarf photosphere, where it should emerge as extreme ultraviolet (EUV) radiation. This also provides an adequate source of ionizing photons to power the high-excitation optical and UV emission lines. This is probably the DQ Her analog to the famous "soft X-ray excess" in AM Her stars. However, unlike the AM Her case, this radiation has not been directly observed, so the analogy must not (yet) be embraced too firmly. There is some conventional wisdom today which segregates the short-period from the long-period DQ Her stars. But the observational grounds for this distinction are slim, except in one respect: X-ray emission from short-period systems appears to be weaker and softer. This must be due to the shallower depth of the potential well, and/or the greater difficulty the fast rotators have in enforcing radial accretion flow.

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Copyright © 1997 Astronomical Society of the Pacific.