Circular 173

Edward C. Pickering, March 3, 1912.

Periods Of 25 Variable Stars In The Small Magellanic Cloud.

The following statement regarding the periods of 25 variable stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud has been prepared by Miss Leavitt.

A Catalogue of 1777 variable stars in the two Magellanic Clouds is given in H.A. 60, No. 4. The measurement and discussion of these objects present problems of unusual difficulty, on account of the large area covered by the two regions, the extremely crowded distribution of the stars contained in them, the faintness of the variables, and the shortness of their periods. As many of them never become brighter than the fifteenth magnitude, while very few exceed the thirteenth magnitude at maximum, long exposures are necessary, and the number of available photographs is small. The determination of absolute magnitudes for widely separated sequences of comparison stars of this degree of faintness may not be satisfactorily completed forsome time to come. With the adoption of an absolute scale of magnitudes for stars in the North Polar Sequence, however, the way is open for such a determination.

Fifty-nine of the variables in the Small Magellanic Cloud were measured in 1904, using a provisional scale of magnitudes, and the periods of seventeen of them were published in H.A. 60, No. 4, Table VI. They resemble the variables found in globular clusters, diminishing slowly in brightness, remaining near minimum for the greater part of the time, and increasing very rapidly to a brief maximum. Table I gives all the periods which have been determined thus far, 25 in number, arranged in the order of their length. The first five columns contain the Harvard Number, the brightness at maximum and at minimum as read from the light curve, the epoch expressed in days following J.D. 2,410,000, and the length of the period expressed in days. The Harvard Numbers in the first column are placed in Italics, when the period has not been published hitherto. A remarkable relation between the brightness of these variables and the length of their periods will be noticed. In H.A. 60, No. 4, attention was called to the fact that the brighter variables have the longer periods, but at that time it was felt that the number was too small to warrant the drawing of general conclusions. The periods of 8 additional variables which have been determined since that time, however, conform to the same law.

The relation is shown graphically in Figure 1, in which the abscissas are equal to the periods, expressed in days, and the ordinates are equal to the corresponding magnitudes at maxima and at minima. The two resulting curves, one for maxima and one for minima, are surprisingly smooth, and of remarkable form. In Figure 2, the abscissas are equal to the logarithms of the periods, and the ordinates to the corresponding magnitudes, as in Figure 1. A straight line can readily be drawn among each of the two series of points corresponding to maxima and minima, thus showing that there is a simple relation between the brightness of the variables and their periods. The logarithm of the period increases by about 0.48 for each increase of one magnitude in brightness. The residuals of the maximum and minimum of each star from the lines in Figure 2 are given in the sixth and seventh columns of Table I. It is possible that the deviations from a straight line may become smaller when an absolute scale of magnitudes is used, and they may even indicate the corrections that need to be applied to the provisional scale. It should be noticed that the average range, for bright and faint variables alike, is about 1.2 magnitudes. Since the variables are probably at nearly the same distance from the Earth, their periods are apparently associated with their actual emission of light, as determined by their mass, density, and surface brightness.

The faintness of the variables in the Magellanic Clouds seems to preclude the study of their spectra, with our present facilities. A number of brighter variables have similar light curves, as UY Cygni, and should repay careful study. The class of spectrum ought to be determined for as many such objects as possible. It is to be hoped, also, that the parallaxes of some variables of this type may be measured. Two fundamental questions upon which light may be thrown by such inquiries are whether there are definite limits to the mass of variable stars of the cluster type, and if the spectra of such variables having long periods differ from those of variables whose periods are short.

The facts known with regard to these 25 variables suggest many other questions with regard to distribution, relations to star clusters and nebulae, differences in the forms of the light curves, and the extreme range of the length of the periods. It is hoped that a systematic study of the light changes of all the variables, nearly two thousand in number, in the two Magellanic Clouds may soon be undertaken at this Observatory.