On the hubble space telescope trigonometric parallax of the dwarf nova SS CYGNI

Edmund P. Nelan, Howard E. Bond

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SS Cygni is one of the brightest dwarf novae (DNe), and one of the best studied prototypes of the cataclysmic variables. Astrometric observations with the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGSs) on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), published in 2004, gave an absolute trigonometric parallax of 6.06 ± 0.44 mas. However, recent very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), obtained during radio outbursts of SS Cyg, has yielded a significantly larger absolute parallax of 8.80 ± 0.12 mas, as well as a large difference in the direction of the proper motion (PM) compared to the HST result. The VLBI distance reduces the implied luminosity of SS Cyg by about a factor of two, giving good agreement with predictions based on accretion-disk theory in order to explain the observed DN outburst behavior. This discrepancy raises the possibility of significant systematic errors in FGS parallaxes and PMs. We have reanalyzed the archival HST/FGS data, including (1) a critical redetermination of the parallaxes of the background astrometric reference stars, (2) updated input values of the reference-star PMs, and (3) correction of the position measurements for color-dependent shifts. Our new analysis yields a PM of SS Cyg that agrees well with the VLBI motion, and an absolute parallax of 8.30 ± 0.41 mas, also statistically concordant with the VLBI result at the ∼1.2 σ level. Our results suggest that HST/FGS parallaxes are free of large systematic errors, when the data are reduced using high-quality input values for the astrometry of the reference stars, and when instrumental signatures are properly removed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL26
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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