An accurate geometric distance to the compact binary SS Cygni vindicates accretion disc theory
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Dwarf novae are white dwarfs accreting matter from a nearby red dwarf companion. Their regular outbursts are explained by a thermal-viscous instability in the accretion disc, described by the disc instability model that has since been successfully extended to other accreting systems. However, the prototypical dwarf nova, SS Cygni, presents a major challenge to our understanding of accretion disc theory. At the distance of 159 ± 12 parsecs measured by the Hubble Space Telescope, it is too luminous to be undergoing the observed regular outbursts. Using very long baseline interferometric radio observations, we report an accurate, model-independent distance to SS Cygni that places the source substantially closer at 114 ± 2 parsecs. This reconciles the source behavior with our understanding of accretion disc theory in accreting compact objects.
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