Variable star

This variation may be caused by a change in emitted light or by something partly blocking the light, so variable stars are classified as either:

In very few cases it is possible to make pictures of a stellar disk. These may show darker spots on its surface.

These stars of spectral type A2 to F5, similar to δ Scuti variables, are found mainly in globular clusters. They exhibit fluctuations in their brightness in the order of 0.7 magnitude (about 100% change in luminosity) or so every 1 to 2 hours.

These stars of spectral type A or occasionally F0, a sub-class of δ Scuti variables found on the main sequence. They have extremely rapid variations with periods of a few minutes and amplitudes of a few thousandths of a magnitude.

The long period variables are cool evolved stars that pulsate with periods in the range of weeks to several years.

These are yellow supergiant stars (actually low mass post-AGB stars at the most luminous stage of their lives) which have alternating deep and shallow minima. This double-peaked variation typically has periods of 30–100 days and amplitudes of 3–4 magnitudes. Superimposed on this variation, there may be long-term variations over periods of several years. Their spectra are of type F or G at maximum light and type K or M at minimum brightness. They lie near the instability strip, cooler than type I Cepheids more luminous than type II Cepheids. Their pulsations are caused by the same basic mechanisms related to helium opacity, but they are at a very different stage of their lives.

Gamma Doradus (γ Dor) variables are non-radially pulsating main-sequence stars of spectral classes F to late A. Their periods are around one day and their amplitudes typically of the order of 0.1 magnitudes.

A Blue Large-Amplitude Pulsator (BLAP) is a pulsating star characterized by changes of 0.2 to 0.4 magnitudes with typical periods of 20 to 40 minutes.

Eruptive variable stars show irregular or semi-regular brightness variations caused by material being lost from the star, or in some cases being accreted to it. Despite the name these are not explosive events, those are the cataclysmic variables.

Protostars are young objects that have not yet completed the process of contraction from a gas nebula to a veritable star. Most protostars exhibit irregular brightness variations.

Large stars lose their matter relatively easily. For this reason variability due to eruptions and mass loss is fairly common among giants and supergiants.

These massive evolved stars are unstable due to their high luminosity and position above the instability strip, and they exhibit slow but sometimes large photometric and spectroscopic changes due to high mass loss and occasional larger eruptions, combined with secular variation on an observable timescale. The best known example is Rho Cassiopeiae.

These are close binary systems with highly active chromospheres, including huge sunspots and flares, believed to be enhanced by the close companion. Variability scales ranges from days, close to the orbital period and sometimes also with eclipses, to years as sunspot activity varies.

A supernova may also result from mass transfer onto a white dwarf from a star companion in a double star system. The Chandrasekhar limit is surpassed from the infalling matter. The absolute luminosity of this latter type is related to properties of its light curve, so that these supernovae can be used to establish the distance to other galaxies.

Luminous red novae are stellar explosions caused by the merger of two stars. They are not related to classical novae. They have a characteristic red appearance and very slow decline following the initial outburst.

Dwarf novae are double stars involving a white dwarf in which matter transfer between the component gives rise to regular outbursts. There are three types of dwarf nova:

DQ Herculis systems are interacting binaries in which a low-mass star transfers mass to a highly magnetic white dwarf. The white dwarf spin period is significantly shorter than the binary orbital period and can sometimes be detected as a photometric periodicity. An accretion disk usually forms around the white dwarf, but its innermost regions are magnetically truncated by the white dwarf. Once captured by the white dwarf's magnetic field, the material from the inner disk travels along the magnetic field lines until it accretes. In extreme cases, the white dwarf's magnetism prevents the formation of an accretion disk.

In these cataclysmic variables, the white dwarf's magnetic field is so strong that it synchronizes the white dwarf's spin period with the binary orbital period. Instead of forming an accretion disk, the accretion flow is channeled along the white dwarf's magnetic field lines until it impacts the white dwarf near a magnetic pole. Cyclotron radiation beamed from the accretion region can cause orbital variations of several magnitudes.

These symbiotic binary systems are composed of a red giant and a hot blue star enveloped in a cloud of gas and dust. They undergo nova-like outbursts with amplitudes of up to 4 magnitudes. The prototype for this class is Z Andromedae.

AM CVn variables are symbiotic binaries where a white dwarf is accreting helium-rich material from either another white dwarf, a helium star, or an evolved main-sequence star. They undergo complex variations, or at times no variations, with ultrashort periods.

There are two main groups of extrinsic variables: rotating stars and eclipsing stars.

Stars with sizeable sunspots may show significant variations in brightness as they rotate, and brighter areas of the surface are brought into view. Bright spots also occur at the magnetic poles of magnetic stars. Stars with ellipsoidal shapes may also show changes in brightness as they present varying areas of their surfaces to the observer.

These are very close binaries, the components of which are non-spherical due to their tidal interaction. As the stars rotate the area of their surface presented towards the observer changes and this in turn affects their brightness as seen from Earth.

BY Draconis stars are of spectral class K or M and vary by less than 0.5 magnitudes (70% change in luminosity).

Stars in this class exhibit brightness fluctuations of some 0.1 magnitude caused by changes in their magnetic fields due to high rotation speeds.

Double periodic variables exhibit cyclical mass exchange which causes the orbital period to vary predictably over a very long period. The best known example is V393 Scorpii.

Beta Lyrae (β Lyr) variables are extremely close binaries, named after the star Sheliak. The light curves of this class of eclipsing variables are constantly changing, making it almost impossible to determine the exact onset and end of each eclipse.

W Serpentis is the prototype of a class of semi-detached binaries including a giant or supergiant transferring material to a massive more compact star. They are characterised, and distinguished from the similar β Lyr systems, by strong UV emission from accretions hotspots on a disc of material.

The stars in this group show periods of less than a day. The stars are so closely situated to each other that their surfaces are almost in contact with each other.