A universal decline law of classical novae

Izumi Hachisu, Mariko Kato

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134 Citations (Scopus)


We calculate many different nova light curves for a variety of white dwarf masses and chemical compositions, with the assumption that free-free emission from optically thin ejecta dominates the continuum flux. We show that all these light curves are homologous and a universal law can be derived by introducing a "time scaling factor." The template light curve for the universal law has a slope of flux F ∝ t-1.75 in the middle part (from ∼2 to ∼6 mag below the optical maximum), but it declines more steeply, F ∝ r-3.5, in the later part (from ∼6 to ∼10 mag), where t is the time from the outburst in units of days. This break on the light curve is due to a quick decrease in the wind mass-loss rate. The nova evolutions are approximately scaled by the time of break. Once the time of break is observationally determined, we can derive the period of a UV burst phase, the duration of optically thick wind phase, and the turnoff date of hydrogen shell-burning. An empirical observational formula, t3 = (1.68 ± 0.08) t2 + (1.9 ± 1.5) days, is derived from the relation of F ∝ t-1.75, where t2 and t3 are the times in days during which a nova decays by 2 and 3 mag from the optical maximum, respectively. We have applied our template light curve model to the three well-observed novae, V1500 Cyg, V1668 Cyg, and V1974 Cyg. Our theoretical light curves show excellent agreement with the optical y and infrared J, H, K light curves. The continuum UV 1455 Å light curves observed with IUE are well reproduced. The turn-on and turn-off of supersoft X-ray observed with ROSAT are also explained simultaneously by our model. The WD mass is estimated, from the light curve fitting, to be MWD ≈ 1.15 M for V1500 Cyg, MWD ≈ 0.95 M for V1668 Cyg, and M WD ≈ 0.95-1.05 M for V1974 Cyg, together with the appropriate chemical compositions of the ejecta.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-80
Number of pages22
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Nov
Externally publishedYes


  • Novae, cataclysmic variables
  • Stars: individual (V1500 Cygni, v1668 Cygni, V1974 Cygni)
  • White dwarfs
  • X-rays: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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