In this project, Dr. Thorstensen will continue his longstanding effort to provide observational tests of the theory of cataclysmic variables (CVs). Formerly called novae, CVs consist of close binary stars in which mass is flowing from an evolved red giant onto a compact white dwarf. The material piling up on the white dwarf surface can undergo thermonuclear fusion, leading to a significant temporary brightening of the system. Dr. Thorstensen and his students will obtain measurements of orbital velocities and distances of CVs, which will improve mass estimates of the components of the binaries and to determine the volume density of CVs near the Sun.
Dr. Thorstensen will provide research experiences for undergraduates by including them on observing runs, and will supervise a graduate student who will work on the analysis of new and existing data. He also plans to improve certain widely-used software packages which he has previously written and distributed to the community.