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AM Canum Venaticorum (AM CVn) is a hydrogen-deficient cataclysmic variable binary star in the constellation of Canes Venatici. It is the type star of its class of variables, the AM Canum Venaticorum stars. The system consists of a white dwarf gaining matter via an accretion disk from a semi-degenerate or white dwarf companion.

AM Canum Venaticorum
Observation data
Epoch J2000.0      Equinox J2000.0 (ICRS)
Constellation Canes Venatici
Right ascension  12h 34m 54.60s[1]
Declination +37° 37′ 44.1″[1]
Apparent magnitude (V) +14.02 (13.7–14.2)[2]
Spectral type DBp[3]
U−B color index −1.01[4]
B−V color index −0.23[4]
Variable type AM CVn[5]
Proper motion (μ) RA: 30.935[6] mas/yr
Dec.: 12.420[6] mas/yr
Parallax (π)3.3512 ± 0.0452[6] mas
Distance970 ± 10 ly
(298 ± 4 pc)
Absolute magnitude (MV)4.90+0.37
Period (P)1,028.7322±0.0003 s (17:08.732±0.018 min)
Inclination (i)43±2°
Mass0.6[7] M
Radius0.0137[7] R
Temperature100,000[7] K
Mass0.1[7] M
Other designations
EGGR 91, HZ 29, GSC 03018-02523, PG 1232+379, WD 1232+37, AAVSO 1229+38.
Database references



Photoelectric V light curve for AM Canum Venaticorum over a 330-minute period

During 1939–40, a survey for faint white dwarfs was carried out using an 18-inch (46 cm) Schmidt telescope at Palomar observatory. Part of the survey was made around the north galactic pole in order to exclude stars of stellar classifications O, B, and A, as these higher mass, shorter-lived stars tend to be concentrated along the plane of the Milky Way where new star formation occurs. Out of the stars observed, a list of faint blue stars was constructed by Milton L. Humason and Fritz Zwicky in 1947,[8] with their blue hue suggesting a relatively high effective temperature. The 29th star on their list, HZ 29, was found to have the most peculiar spectrum out of the set. It displayed an absence of hydrogen lines, but broad, diffuse lines of neutral (non-ionized) helium.[9] This was interpreted as a hydrogen-deficient white dwarf. In 1962, this star was observed with a photoelectric detector and was found to vary in magnitude over a period of 18 minutes. The light curve of the variation displayed a double sinusoid pattern.[10] Later, a flickering behavior was observed, which suggested a mass transfer.[2]


The distance of AM CVn has been difficult to determine. It is too faint to have a measured Hipparcos parallax, too distant to have a reliable precise parallax determined by other means, and too rare to have its parameters known by comparison with other objects.

Calibration against other cataclysmic variables yields a distance of 143 pc.[11] Other estimates of its distance, by comparison to models of its accretion disk, give 288±50 pc and 420±80 pc. One ground-based measurement of its absolute parallax gave a distance of 235 pc. Derivation of a relative parallax, by comparison to the estimated parallaxes of three comparison stars, using the Hubble Space Telescope Fine Guidance Sensor gives a very large distance of 606+135

Gaia Data Release 2 gives a parallax of 3.3512±0.0452 mas, leading to a distance of 295±4 pc.[12] This value gives the system a lower luminosity and accretion rate, closer to what would be expected by accretion disk models.[13]


The model developed to explain the observations was that AM Canum Venaticorum is a binary system consisting of a pair of white dwarfs in a close orbit. The primary is a more massive white dwarf composed of carbon/oxygen, whereas the secondary is a less massive white dwarf made of helium, with no hydrogen but traces of heavier elements.[2] At the unexpectedly large distance found by the HST, the secondary would be a semi-degenerate object such as subdwarf B star.[2]

Gravitational wave radiation is causing a loss of angular momentum in the orbit, leading to the transfer of helium from the secondary to the primary as the two draw closer.[14] This transfer is occurring because the secondary is overflowing its Roche lobe—a tear drop shaped lobe created by the gravitational interaction between the two stars.[2]

The mass transfer rate between the two stars is estimated as about 7×10−9 solar masses per year, which is creating an accretion disk around the companion white dwarf.[5] The energy output from the mass flow onto this accretion disk is actually the primary contributor to the visual luminosity of this system; outshining both of the stellar components. The temperature of this disk is about 30,000 K.[5]

High speed photometry of the system shows multiple periods of variation in the luminosity. The main period of 1,028.73 seconds (17m 8.73s) is the orbital period of the pair.[14] A secondary period of 1,051 seconds (17m 31s) is believed to be caused by a superhump—an elevated outburst in the signal that occurs with a period slightly longer than the orbital period. The superhump may be the result of an elongation of the accretion disk in combination with precession. The elliptical disk precesses about the white dwarf over a time interval much longer than the orbital period, causing a slight change in the orientation of the disk over each orbit.[15]


Normally AM CVn only exhibits magnitude variations of 0.05. However, AM CVn star systems such as this are nova-like objects that are known to randomly generate intense flares in luminosity. AM Canum Venaticorum displayed just such flaring behavior twice during the period 1985–1987, with these flares showing rapid fluctuations in luminosity. A 1986 flare caused an increase in magnitude of up to Δm = 1.07±0.03 and lasted for 212 seconds. The amount of energy released during this event is estimated as 2.7×1036 erg.[16] These flashes are caused by the brief thermonuclear fusion of helium being accumulated along an outer shell by the primary.[17]


  1. ^ a b Cutri, R. M.; et al. (March 2003), "2MASS All-Sky Catalog of Point Sources", VizieR On-line Data Catalog: II/246, 2246, p. 0, Bibcode:2003yCat.2246....0C
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Roelofs, G. H. A.; et al. (September 2007), "Hubble Space Telescope Parallaxes of AM CVn Stars and Astrophysical Consequences", The Astrophysical Journal, 666 (2): 1174–1188, arXiv:0705.3855, Bibcode:2007ApJ...666.1174R, doi:10.1086/520491
  3. ^ Van Altena, W. F.; Lee, J. T.; Hoffleit, E. D. (1995). "The general catalogue of trigonometric [stellar] parallaxes". New Haven.
  4. ^ a b Mermilliod, J.-C. (1986). "Compilation of Eggen's UBV data, transformed to UBV (unpublished)". Catalogue of Eggen's UBV Data: 0. Bibcode:1986EgUBV........0M.
  5. ^ a b c d Roelofs, G. H. A.; et al. (September 2006), "Kinematics of the ultracompact helium accretor AM Canum Venaticorum", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 371 (3): 1231–1242, arXiv:astro-ph/0606327, Bibcode:2006MNRAS.371.1231R, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2006.10718.x
  6. ^ a b c Brown, A. G. A.; et al. (Gaia collaboration) (August 2018). "Gaia Data Release 2: Summary of the contents and survey properties". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 616. A1. arXiv:1804.09365. Bibcode:2018A&A...616A...1G. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201833051. Gaia DR2 record for this source at VizieR.
  7. ^ a b c d Kusterer, D. -J; Nagel, T.; Hartmann, S.; Werner, K.; Feldmeier, A. (2014). "Monte Carlo radiation transfer in CV disk winds: Application to the AM CVn prototype". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 561: A14. Bibcode:2014A&A...561A..14K. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201321438.
  8. ^ Humason, M. L.; Zwicky, F. (January 1947), "A Search for Faint Blue Stars", Astrophysical Journal, 105: 85, Bibcode:1947ApJ...105...85H, doi:10.1086/144884
  9. ^ Greenstein, Jesse L.; Matthews, Mildred S. (July 1957), "Studies of the White Dwarfs. I. Broad Features in White Dwarf Spectra", Astrophysical Journal, 126: 14, Bibcode:1957ApJ...126...14G, doi:10.1086/146364
  10. ^ Smak, J. (February 1967), "18-min. Light-Variations of HZ 29", Information Bulletin on Variable Stars, 182: 1, Bibcode:1967IBVS..182....1S
  11. ^ Ak, T.; Bilir, S.; Ak, S.; Eker, Z. (2008). "Spatial distribution and galactic model parameters of cataclysmic variables". New Astronomy. 13 (3): 133. arXiv:0708.1053. Bibcode:2008NewA...13..133A. doi:10.1016/j.newast.2007.08.003.
  12. ^ Bailer-Jones, C. A. L.; Rybizki, J.; Fouesneau, M.; Mantelet, G.; Andrae, R. (2018). "VizieR Online Data Catalog: Distances to 1.33 billion stars in Gaia DR2 (Bailer-Jones+, 2018)". VizieR On-line Data Catalog. Bibcode:2018yCat.1347....0B.
  13. ^ G. Ramsay; et al. (2018). "The physical properties of AM CVn stars: new insights from Gaia DR2". Astronomy & Astrophysics. 620: A141. arXiv:1810.06548. doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201834261.
  14. ^ a b Nelemans, G.; Steeghs, D.; Groot, P. J. (September 2001), "Spectroscopic evidence for the binary nature of AM CVn", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 326 (2): 621–627, arXiv:astro-ph/0104220, Bibcode:2001MNRAS.326..621N, doi:10.1046/j.1365-8711.2001.04614.x
  15. ^ Pearson, K. J. (July 2007), "Are superhumps good measures of the mass ratio for AM CVn systems?", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 379 (1): 183–189, arXiv:0705.0141, Bibcode:2007MNRAS.379..183P, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2007.11932.x
  16. ^ Marar, T. M. K.; et al. (January 1988), "Flares on AM Canum Venaticorum", Astronomy and Astrophysics, 189 (1–2): 119–123, Bibcode:1988A&A...189..119M
  17. ^ Bildsten, Lars; Shen, Ken J.; Weinberg, Nevin N.; Nelemans, Gijs (June 2007), "Faint Thermonuclear Supernovae from AM Canum Venaticorum Binaries", The Astrophysical Journal, 662 (2): L95–L98, arXiv:astro-ph/0703578, Bibcode:2007ApJ...662L..95B, doi:10.1086/519489

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