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We compare ultraviolet (UV) spectra of the recent soft X-ray transients XTE J1118+480 and XTE J1859+226. The emission line strengths in XTE J1118+480 strongly suggest that the accreting material has been CNO processed. We show that this system must have come into contact with a secondary star of about 1.5 M⊙, and an orbital period ∼ 15 h, very close to the bifurcation value at which the nuclear and angular momentum loss time-scales are similar. Subsequent evolution to the current period of 4.1 h was driven by angular momentum loss. In passing through a period of 7.75 h the secondary star would have shown essentially normal surface abundances. XTE J1118+480 could thus represent a slightly later evolutionary stage of A0620-00. We briefly discuss the broad Ly α absorption wings in XTE J1118+480.

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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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