Nova - Occurrence Rate, and Astrophysical Significance

Occurrence Rate, and Astrophysical Significance

Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way experiences roughly 30 to 60 novae per year, with a likely rate of about 40. The number of novae discovered in the Milky Way each year is much lower, about 10. Roughly 25 novae brighter than about magnitude 20 are discovered in the Andromeda Galaxy each year and smaller numbers are seen in other nearby galaxies.

Spectroscopic observation of nova ejecta nebulae has shown that they are enriched in elements such as helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, neon and magnesium. The contribution of novae to the interstellar medium is not great; novae supply only 1⁄50 as much material to the Galaxy as supernovae, and only 1⁄200 as much as red giant and supergiant stars.

Recurrent novae like RS Ophiuchi (those with periods on the order of decades) are rare. Astronomers theorize however that most, if not all, novae are recurrent, albeit on time scales ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 years. The recurrence interval for a nova is less dependent on the white dwarf's accretion rate than on its mass; with their powerful gravity, massive white dwarfs require less accretion to fuel an outburst than lower-mass ones. Consequently, the interval is shorter for high-mass white dwarfs.

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