Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wild Stars in the Old West

Today I flew to Tucson, where I'm going to spend the week at a conference entitled, "Wild Stars in the Old West II".

The conference is about a type of object known as cataclysmic variables, or CVs for short. CVs are actually binary stars, typically with a white dwarf star being orbited by a small star, often a red dwarf or a brown dwarf. The gravity from the white dwarf is strong enough to pull gas off of its companion star, and as the gas falls onto the white dwarf, it heats up and glows as bright or brighter than both stars combined. So, when we look at CVs, we often can't see either star, but we see a highly variable flickering from the gas stream.

CVs are not my primary area of research, but since I work on white dwarf stars, there is a lot of overlap. I know many of the people in CV research, so it will be great to catch up with many of them.

I'm also presenting my first foray into CV research. In January 2007, I was looking at stars I thought might be white dwarfs in the star cluster Messier 67 with the Keck telescope. One of the stars I looked at was not just a white dwarf, but was also a type of cataclysmic variable called a polar (pronounced "POLE-are"). While I didn't discover this particular CV, I did obtain one of the best data sets on it, and all quite by accident.

In the coming days I'll tell you a bit about my CV and findings, and I'll tell you about any interesting developments from this conference.

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