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Cataclysmic Variable Primary Effective Temperatures: Constraints on Binary Angular Momentum Loss

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DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/693/1/1007
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We review the most decisive currently available measurements of the surface effective temperatures, Teff, of white dwarf (WD) primaries in cataclysmic variables (CVs) during accretion quiescence, and use these as a diagnostic for their time averaged accretion rate, <Mdot>. Using time-dependent calculations of the WD envelope, we investigate the sensitivity of the quiescent Teff to long term variations in the accretion rate. We find that the quiescent Teff provides one of the best available tests of predictions for the angular momentum loss and resultant mass transfer rates which govern the evolution of CVs. While gravitational radiation is sufficient to explain the <Mdot> of strongly magnetic CVs at all Porb, faster angular momentum loss is required by the temperatures of dwarf nova primaries (non-magnetic systems). This provides evidence that a normal stellar magnetic field structure near the secondary is essential for the enhanced braking mechanism to work, supporting the well-known stellar wind braking hypothesis. The contrast in <Mdot> is most prominent for orbital periods Porb > 3 hours, above the period gap, but a modest enhancement is also present at shorter Porb. The averaging time which <Mdot> reflects is as much as 10^5 years for low-<Mdot> systems and as little as 10^3 years for high-<Mdot> systems. We discuss the security of conclusions drawn about the CV population in light of these time scales and our necessarily incomplete sample of systems. Measurements for non-magnetic systems above the period gap fall below predictions from traditional stellar wind braking prescriptions, but above more recent predictions with somewhat weaker angular momentum loss. We also discuss the apparently high Teff's found in the VY Scl stars. (abridged)


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