Orbital period changes of contact binary systems: direct evidence for thermal relaxation oscillation theory
Orbital period changes of ten contact binary systems (S Ant, ɛ CrA, EF Dra, UZ Leo, XZ Leo, TY Men, V566 Oph, TY Pup, RZ Tau and AG Vir) are studied based on the analysis of their O-C curves. It is discovered that the periods of the six systems, S Ant, ɛ CrA, EF Dra, XZ Leo, TY Men and TY Pup, show secular increases. For UZ Leo, its secular period increase rate is revised. For the three systems, V566 Oph, RZ Tau and AG Vir, weak evidence is presented that a periodic oscillation (with periods of 20.4, 28.5 and 40.9yr respectively) is superimposed on a secular period increase. The cyclic period changes can be explained by the presence of an unseen third body in the three systems. All the sample stars studied are contact binaries with M1>=1.35Msolar. Furthermore, orbital period changes of 27 hot contact binaries have been checked. It is found that, apart from AW UMa with the lowest mass ratio (q=0.072), none shows an orbital period decrease. The relatively weak magnetic activity in the hotter contact binaries means little angular momentum loss (AML) from the systems via magnetic stellar winds. The period increases of these W UMa binaries can be explained by mass transfer from the secondary to the primary components, which is in agreement with the prediction of the thermal relaxation oscillation (TRO) models. This suggests that the evolution of a hotter W UMa star is mainly controlled by TRO. On the other hand, for a cooler W UMa star (M1<=1.35Msolar), its evolution may be TRO plus AML, which coincides with the recent results of Qian.