Variable Stars

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GCVS Variability Types

An improved system of variability classification is used in the fourth edition of the GCVS, based on recent developments in classification principles and taking into account the suggestions of a number of specialists. Variability types are grouped according to the major astrophysical reasons for variability.

All of these classes include objects of a dissimilar nature that belong to different types of light variability. On the other hand, an object may be variable because of almost all of the possible reasons or because of any combination of them. If a variable belongs to several types of variability, the types are joined in the data field by a "+" sign, e.g., E+UG, UV+BY.

Eruptive Variable Stars

Eruptive variables are stars varying in brightness because of violent processes and flares occurring in their chromospheres and coronae. The light changes are usually accompanied by shell events or mass outflow in the form of stellar winds of variable intensity and/or by interaction with the surrounding interstellar medium. This class includes the following types:

Type Description
FU Orion variables of the FU Orionis type. Characterized by gradual increases in brightness by about 6 mag in several months, followed by either almost complete constancy at maximum that is sustained for long periods of time or slow decline by 1-2 mag. Spectral types at maximum are in the range Ae(alpha) - Gpe(alpha). After an outburst, a gradual development of an emission spectrum is observed and the spectral type becomes later. These variables probably mark one of the evolutionary stages of T Tauri-type Orion variables (INT), as evidenced by an outburst of one member, V1057 Cyg, but its decline (2.5 mag in 11 years) commenced immediately after maximum brightness was attained. All presently known FU Ori variables are coupled with reflecting cometary nebulae.
GCAS Eruptive irregular variables of the Gamma Cas type. These are rapidly rotating B III-IVe stars with mass outflow from their equatorial zones. The formation of equatorial rings or disks is often accompanied by temporary fading. Light amplitudes may reach 1.5 mag in V.
I Poorly studied irregular variables with unknown features of light variations and spectral types. This is a very inhomogeneous group of objects.
IA Poorly studied irregular variables of early (O-A) spectral type.
IB Poorly studied irregular variables of intermediate (F-G) to late (K-M) spectral type.
IN Orion variables. Irregular, eruptive variables connected with bright or dark diffuse nebulae or observed in the regions of these nebulae. Some of them may show cyclic light variations caused by axial rotation. In the Spectrum-Luminosity diagram, they are found in the area of the main sequence and subgiants. They are probably young objects that, during the course of further evolution, will become light-constant stars on the zero-age main sequence (ZAMS). The range of brightness variations may reach several magnitudes. In the case of rapid light variations having been observed (up to 1 mag in 1-10 days), the letter "S" is added to the symbol for the type (INS). This type may be divided into the following subtypes:
INA Orion variables of early spectral types (B-A or Ae). They are often characterized by occasional abrupt Algol-like fadings (T Ori);
INB Orion variables of intermediate and late spectral types, F-M or Fe-Me (BH Cep, AH Ori). F-type stars may show Algol-like fadings similar to those of many INA stars; K-M stars may produce flares along with irregular light variations;
INT,IT Orion variables of the T Tauri type. Stars are assigned to this type on the basis of the following (purely spectroscopic) criteria: spectral types are in the range Fe-Me. The spectra of most typical stars resemble the spectrum of the solar chromosphere. The feature specific to the type is the presence of the flourescent emission lines Fe II 4046, 4132 A (anomalously intense in the spectra of these stars), emission lines [Si II] and [O I], as well as the absorption line Li I 6707 A. These variables are usually observed only in diffuse nebulae. If it is not apparent that the star is associated with a nebula, the letter "N" in the symbol for the type may be omitted, e.g., IT (RW AUR);
IN(YY) Some Orion variables (YY Ori) show the presence of absorption components on the redward sides of emission lines, indicating the infall of matter toward the stars' surfaces. In such cases, the symbol for the type may be accompanied by the symbol "YY".
IS Rapid irregular variables having no apparent connection with diffuse nebulae and showing light changes of about 0.5 - 1.0 mag within several hours or days. There is no strict boundary between rapid irregular and Orion variables. If a rapid irregular star is observed in the region of a diffuse nebula, it is considered an Orion variable and designated by the symbol INS. To attribute a variable to the IS type, it is necessary to take much care to be certain that its light changes are really not periodic. Quite a number of the stars assigned to this type in the third edition of the GCVS turned out to be eclipsing binary systems, RR Lyrae variables, and even extragalactic BL Lac objects.
ISA Rapid irregular variables of the early spectral types, B-A or Ae;
ISB Rapid irregular variables of the intermediate and late spectral types, F-M and Fe-Me.
RCB Variables of the R Coronae Borealis type. These are hydrogen-poor, carbon- and helium-rich, high-luminosity stars belonging to the spectral types Bpe-R, which are simultaneously eruptive and pulsating variables. They show slow nonperiodic fadings by 1-9 mag in V lasting from a month or more to several hundred days. These changes are superposed on cyclic pulsations with amplitudes up to several tenths of a magnitude and periods in the range 30-100 days.
RS Eruptive variables of the RS Canum Venaticorum type. This type is ascribed to close binary systems with spectra showing Ca II H and K in emission, their components having enhanced chromospheric activity that causes quasi-periodic light variability. The period of variation is close to the orbital one, and the variability amplitude is usually as great as 0.2 mag in V (UX Ari). They are X-ray sources and rotating variables. RS CVn itself is also an eclipsing system (see below).
SDOR Variables of the S Doradus type. These are eruptive, high-luminosity Bpec-Fpec stars showing irregular (sometimes cyclic) light changes with amplitudes in the range 1-7 mag in V. They belong to the brightest blue stars of their parent galaxies. As a rule, these stars are connected with diffuse nebulae and surrounded by expanding envelopes (P Cyg, Eta Car).
UV Eruptive variables of the UV Ceti type, these are K Ve-M Ve stars sometimes displaying flare activity with amplitudes from several tenths of a magnitude up to 6 mag in V. The amplitude is considerably greater in the ultraviolet spectral region. Maximum light is attained in several seconds or dozens of seconds after the beginning of a flare; the star returns to its normal brightness in several minutes or dozens of minutes.
UVN Flaring Orion variables of spectral types Ke-Me. These are phenomenologically almost identical to UV Cet variables observed in the solar neighborhood. In addition to being related to nebulae, they are normally characterized by being of earlier spectral type and greater luminosity, with slower development of flares (V389 Ori). They are possibly a specific subgroup of INB variables with irregular variations superimposed by flares.
WR Eruptive Wolf-Rayet variables. Stars with broad emission features of He I and He II as well as C II-C IV, O II-O IV, and N III-N V. They display irregular light changes with amplitudes up to 0.1 mag in V, which are probably caused by physical processes, in particular, by nonstable mass outflow from their atmospheres.

Pulsating Variable Stars

Pulsating variables are stars showing periodic expansion and contraction of their surface layers. The pulsations may be radial or nonradial. A radially pulsating star remains spherical in shape, while in the case of nonradial pulsations the star's shape periodically deviates from a sphere, and even neighboring zones of its surface may have opposite pulsation phases.

Depending on the period value, on the mass and evolutionary status of the star, and on the scale of pulsational phenomena, the following types of pulsating variables may be distinguished:

Type Description
ACYG Variables of the Alpha Cygni type, which are nonradially pulsating supergiants of Bep-AepIa spectral types. The light changes with amplitudes of the order of 0.1 mag often seem irregular, being caused by the superposition of many oscillations with close periods. Cycles from several days to several weeks are observed.
BCEP Variables of the Beta Cephei type (Beta Cep, Beta CMa), which are pulsating O8-B6 I-V stars with periods of light and radial-velocity variations in the range of 0.1 - 0.6 days and light amplitudes from 0.01 to 0.3 mag in V. The light curves are similar in shape to average radial-velocity curves but lag in phase by a quarter of the period, so that maximum brightness corresponds to maximum contraction, i.e., to minimum stellar radius. The majority of these stars probably show radial pulsations, but some (V469 Per) display nonradial pulsations; multiperiodicity is characteristic of many of these stars.
BCEPS A short-period group of Beta Cep variables. The spectral types are B2-B3 IV-V; periods and light amplitudes are in the ranges 0.02 - 0.04 days and 0.015 - 0.025 days, respectively, i.e., an order of magnitude smaller than the normally observed ones.
CEP Cepheids. Radially pulsating, high luminosity (classes Ib-II) variables with periods in the range of 1-135 days and amplitudes from several hundredths to 2 mag in V (in the B band, the amplitudes are greater). Spectral type at maximum light is F; at minimum, the types are G-K. The longer the period of light variation, the later is the spectral type. The maximum of the surface-layer expansion velocity almost coinciding with maximum light.
CEP(B) Cepheids (TU Cas, V 367 Sct) displaying the presence of two or more simultaneously operating pulsation modes (usually the fundamental tone with the period P0 and the first overtone P1). The periods P0 are in the range from 2 to 7 days, with the ratio P1/P0 approx. 0.71.
CW Variables of the W Virginis type. These are pulsating variables of the galactic spherical component (old disk) population with periods of approximately 0.8 to 35 days and amplitudes from 0.3 to 1.2 mag in V. They obey a period-luminosity relation different from that for Delta Cep variables (see DCEP). For an equal period value, the W Vir variables are fainter than the Delta Cep stars by 0.7 - 2 mag. The light curves of W Vir variables for some period intervals differ from those of Delta Cep variables for corresponding periods either by amplitudes or by the presence of humps on their descending branches, sometimes turning into broad flat maxima. W Vir variables are present in globular clusters and at high galactic latitudes. They may be separated into the following subtypes:
CWA W Vir variables with periods longer than 8 days (W Vir);
CWB W Vir variables with periods shorter than 8 days (BL Her).
DCEP These are the classical cepheids, or Delta Cep-type variables. Comparatively young objects that have left the main sequence and evolved into the instability strip of the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram, they obey the well-known Cepheid period-luminosity relation and belong to the young disk population. DCEP stars are present in open clusters. They display a certain relation between the shapes of their light curves and their periods.
DCEPS These are Delta Cep variables having light amplitudes <0.5 mag in V (<0.7 mag in B) and almost symmetrical light curves (M-m approx. 0.4 - 0.5 periods); as a rule, their periods do not exceed 7 days. They are probably first-overtone pulsators and/or are in the first transition across the instability strip after leaving the main sequence (SU Cas).

Traditionally, both Delta Cep and W Vir stars are quite often called Cepheids because it is often impossible to discriminate between them on the basis of the light curves for periods in the range 3 - 10 days. However, these are distinct groups of entirely different objects in different evolutionary stages. One of the significant spectral differences between W Vir stars and Cepheids is the presence, during a certain phase interval, of hydrogen-line emission in the former and of Ca II H and K emission in the latter.

DSCT Variables of the Delta Scuti type. These are pulsating variables of spectral types A0-F5 III-V displaying light amplitudes from 0.003 to 0.9 mag in V (usually several hundredths of a magnitude) and periods from 0.01 to 0.2 days. The shapes of the light curves, periods, and amplitudes usually vary greatly. Radial as well as nonradial pulsations are observed. The variability of some members of this type appears sporadically and sometimes completely ceases, this being a consequence of strong amplitude modulation with the lower value of the amplitude not exceeding 0.001 mag in some cases. The maximum of the surface layer expansion does not lag behind the maximum light for more than 0.1 periods. DSCT stars are representatives of the galactic disk (flat component) and are phenomenologically close to the SX Phe variables.
DSCTC Low amplitude group of Delta Sct variables (light amplitude <0.1 mag in V). The majority of this type's representatives are stars of luminosity class V; objects of this subtype generally are representative of the Delta Sct variables in open clusters.
L Slow irregular variables. The light variations of these stars show no evidence of periodicity, or any periodicity present is very poorly defined and appears only occasionally. Like for the type I, stars are often attributed to this type because of being insufficiently studied. Many type L variables are really semiregulars or belong to other types.
LB Slow irregular variables of late spectral types (K, M, C, S); as a rule, they are giants (CO Cyg). This type is also ascribed, in the GCVS, to slow red irregular variables in the case of unknown spectral types and luminosities.
LC Irregular variable supergiants of late spectral types having amplitudes of about 1 mag in V (TZ Cas).
M Mira (Omicron) Ceti-type variables. These are long-period variable giants with characteristic late-type emission spectra (Me, Ce, Se) and light amplitudes from 2.5 to 11 mag in V. Their periodicity is well pronounced, and the periods lie in the range between 80 and 1000 days. Infrared amplitudes are usually less than in the visible and may be <2.5 mag. For example, in the K band they usually do not exceed 0.9 mag. If the amplitudes exceed 1 - 1.5 mag , but it is not certain that the true light amplitude exceeds 2.5 mag, the symbol "M" is followed by a colon, or the star is attributed to the semiregular class with a colon following the symbol for that type (SR).
PVTEL Variables of the PV Telescopii type. These are helium supergiant Bp stars with weak hydrogen lines and enhanced lines of He and C. They pulsate with periods of approximately 0.1 to 1 days, or vary in brightness with an amplitude of 0.1 mag in V during a time interval of about a year.
RR Variables of the RR Lyrae type, which are radially-pulsating giant A-F stars having amplitudes from 0.2 to 2 mag in V. Cases of variable light-curve shapes as well as variable periods are known. If these changes are periodic, they are called the "Blazhko effect."

Traditionally, RR Lyrae stars are sometimes called short-period Cepheids or cluster-type variables. The majority of these stars belong to the spherical component of the Galaxy; they are present, sometimes in large numbers, in some globular clusters, where they are known as pulsating horizontal-branch stars. Like Cepheids, maximum expansion velocities of surface layers for these stars practically coincide with maximum light.

RR(B) RR Lyrae variables showing two simultaneously operating pulsation modes, the fundamental tone with the period P0 and the first overtone, P1 (AQ Leo). The ratio P1/P0 is approximately 0.745;
RRAB RR Lyrae variables with asymmetric light curves (steep ascending branches), periods from 0.3 to 1.2 days, and amplitudes from 0.5 to 2 mag in V;
RRC RR Lyrae variables with nearly symmetric, sometimes sinusoidal, light curves, periods from 0.2 to 0.5 days, and amplitudes not greater than 0.8 mag in V (SX UMa).
RV Variables of the RV Tauri type. These are radially pulsating supergiants having spectral types F-G at maximum light and K-M at minimum. The light curves are characterized by the presence of double waves with alternating primary and secondary minima that can vary in depth so that primary minima may become secondary and vice versa. The complete light amplitude may reach 3-4 mag in V. Periods between two adjacent primary minima (usually called formal periods) lie in the range 30-150 days (these are the periods appearing in the Catalogue). Two subtypes, RVA and RVB, are recognized:
RVA RV Tauri variables that do not vary in mean magnitude (AC Her);
RVB RV Tauri variables that periodically (with periods from 600 to 1500 days and amplitudes up to 2 mag in V) vary in mean magnitude (DF Cyg, RV Tau).
SR Semiregular variables, which are giants or supergiants of intermediate and late spectral types showing noticeable periodicity in their light changes, accompanied or sometimes interrupted by various irregularities. Periods lie in the range from 20 to >2000 days, while the shapes of the light curves are rather different and variable, and the amplitudes may be from several hundredths to several magnitudes (usually 1-2 mag in V).
SRA Semiregular late-type (M, C, S or Me, Ce, Se) giants displaying persistent periodicity and usually small (<2.5 mag in V) light amplitudes (Z Aqr). Amplitudes and light-curve shapes generally vary and periods are in the range of 35-1200 days. Many of these stars differ from Miras only by showing smaller light amplitudes;
SRB Semiregular late-type (M, C, S or Me, Ce, Se) giants with poorly defined periodicity (mean cycles in the range of 20 to 2300 days) or with alternating intervals of periodic and slow irregular changes, and even with light constancy intervals (RR CrB, AF Cyg). Every star of this type may usually be assigned a certain mean period (cycle), which is the value given in the Catalogue. In a number of cases, the simultaneous presence of two or more periods of light variation is observed;
SRC Semiregular late-type (M, C, S or Me, Ce, Se) supergiants (Mu Cep) with amplitudes of about 1 mag and periods of light variation from 30 days to several thousand days;
SRD Semiregular variable giants and supergiants of F, G, or K spectral types, sometimes with emission lines in their spectra. Amplitudes of light variation are in the range from 0.1 to 4 mag, and the range of periods is from 30 to 1100 days (SX Her, SV UMa).
SXPHE Phenomenologically, these resemble DSCT (Delta Sct) variables and are pulsating subdwarfs of the spherical component, or old disk galactic population, with spectral types in the range A2-F5. They may show several simultaneous periods of oscillation, generally in the range 0.04-0.08 days, with variable-amplitude light changes that may reach 0.7 mag in V. These stars are present in globular clusters.
ZZ ZZ Ceti variables. These are nonradially pulsating white dwarfs that change their brightnesses with periods from 30 s to 25 min and amplitudes from 0.001 to 0.2 mag in V. They usually show several close period values. Flares of 1 mag are sometimes observed; however, these may be explained by the presence of close UV Ceti companions.

These variables are divided into the following subtypes:

ZZA ZZ Cet-type variables of DA spectral type (ZZ Cet) having only hydrogen absorption lines in their spectra;
ZZB ZZ Cet-type variables of DB spectral type having only helium absorption lines in their spectra.
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