Mass transfer cycles in cataclysmic variables

A. R. King, University of Leicester
J. Frank, Louisiana State University
U. Kolb, University of California, Santa Cruz
H. Ritter, Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics


It is well known that in cataclysmic variables the mass transfer rate must fluctuate about the evolutionary mean on timescales too long to be directly observable. We show that limit-cycle behavior can occur if the radius change of the secondary star is sensitive to the instantaneous mass transfer rate. The only reasonable way in which such a dependence can arise is through irradiation of this star by the accreting component. The system oscillates between high states, in which irradiation causes slow expansion of the secondary and drives an elevated transfer rate, and low states, in which this star contracts.