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The Astronomical Journal


The radio source FIRST J102347.6+003841 was presented as the first radio-selected cataclysmic variable star. In the discovery paper, Bond et al. (2002) show a spectrum consistent with a magnetic AM Her–type system, or polar, featuring strong Balmer lines, He I and He II emission lines, and a light curve with rapid, irregular flickering. In contrast, Woudt, Warner, and Pretorius found a smoothly varying light curve with a period near 4.75 hr and one minimum per orbit, indicating that the state of the system had changed dramatically. We present time-resolved spectra showing a superficially normal, mid-G type photosphere, with no detectable emission lines. The absorption-line radial velocity varies sinusoidally, with semiamplitude 268 ± 4 km s-1, on the orbital period, which is refined to 0.198094(2) days. At this orbital period, the secondary's spectral type is atypically early, suggesting an unusual evolutionary history. We also obtained photometry around the orbit in B, V, and I. The light curve resembles that observed by Woudt, Warner, and Pretorius, and the colors are modulated in a manner consistent with a heating effect. A simple illumination model matches the observations strikingly well, with a Roche lobe–filling secondary near Teff = 5650 K being illuminated by a primary with an isotropic luminosity of ~2 L. The modest amplitude of the observed modulation constrains the orbital inclination i ~ 55° or less, unless the gravity darkening is artificially reduced. Combining the low i with the secondary's velocity amplitude gives a primary star mass above the Chandrasekhar limit when conventional gravity darkening is assumed. We consider the robustness of this conclusion and examine the possibility that the compact object in this system is not a white dwarf, in which case this is not actually a cataclysmic variable. On close examination, FIRST J102347.6+003841 defies easy classification.