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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: October 2009

7 - Eruptive variable stars


Eruptive variables are considered to include any variables which flare up relatively quickly, and fade more slowly. They include flare stars which brighten in seconds, and some types of novae and symbiotic stars which may take months or even years to brighten. This class sometimes even includes R Coronae Borealis stars, which are the inverse of eruptive variables! In the GCVS4, this class includes many types of pre-main sequence stars, and also S Doradus, Gamma Cassiopeiae, and erupting Wolf-Rayet stars. In eruptive variables, there is generally a sudden input of energy into a star, or part of a star, and we see the star's response – a violent outburst.

Flare stars

Flare stars, also known as UV Ceti stars, are dwarf K and M stars (mostly the latter) which randomly and unpredictably increase in brightness within seconds to minutes, by up to several magnitudes, then slowly return to normal (figures 7.1, 7.2). In the GCVS4 they are classified as UV, or UVN if they are associated with pre-main sequence stars, or RS if they occur in an RS Canum Venaticorum binary system. These flares are qualitatively similar to those on the sun. The flares are one aspect of activity on these stars; emission lines in both the visible and ultraviolet spectra, and X-ray emission from a hot (up to 10 000 000 K) corona are others. So flare stars are generally classified as dMe, the ‘e’ referring to the presence of emission lines in the spectrum. Some flare stars are also BY Draconis variables (section 4.5); this is yet another manifestation of their activity.