Cataclysmic variable stars—novae, dwarf novae, and nova-likes—are close binary systems consisting of a white dwarf star (the primary) that is accreting matter from a low-mass companion star (the secondary)1. From time to time such systems undergo large-amplitude brightenings. The most spectacular eruptions, with a ten-thousandfold increase in brightness, occur in classical novae and are caused by a thermonuclear runaway on the surface of the white dwarf2. Such eruptions are thought to recur on timescales of ten thousand to a million years3. In between, the system’s properties depend primarily on the mass-transfer rate: if it is lower than a billionth of a solar mass per year, the accretion becomes unstable and the matter is dumped onto the white dwarf during quasi-periodic dwarf nova outbursts4. The hibernation hypothesis5 predicts that nova eruptions strongly affect the mass-transfer rate in the binary, keeping it high for centuries after the event6. Subsequently, the mass-transfer rate should significantly decrease for a thousand to a million years, starting the hibernation phase. After that the nova awakes again—with accretion returning to the pre-eruption level and leading to a new nova explosion. The hibernation model predicts cyclical evolution of cataclysmic variables through phases of high and low mass-transfer. The theory gained some support from the discovery of ancient nova shells around the dwarf novae Z Camelopardalis7 and AT Cancri8, but direct evidence for considerable mass-transfer changes prior, during and after nova eruptions has not hitherto been found. Here we report long-term observations of the classical nova V1213 Cen (Nova Centauri 2009) covering its pre- and post-eruption phases and precisely documenting its evolution. Within the six years before the explosion, the system revealed dwarf nova outbursts indicative of a low mass-transfer rate. The post-nova is two orders of magnitude brighter than the pre-nova at minimum light with no trace of dwarf nova behaviour, implying that the mass-transfer rate increased considerably as a result of the nova explosion.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    Cataclysmic Variable Stars (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995)

  2. 2.

    Cataclysmic variables among binary stars. II. Physical parameters for novae. Acta Astron. 15, 197–210 (1965)

  3. 3.

    The number of outbursts of a classical nova. Astrophys. J. 219, 595–596 (1978)

  4. 4.

    An accretion model for the outbursts of U Geminorum stars. Publ. Astron. Soc. Jpn. 26, 429–436 (1974)

  5. 5.

    , , & Do novae hibernate during most of the millennia between eruptions? Links between dwarf and classical novae, and implications for the space densities and evolution of cataclysmic binaries. Astrophys. J. 311, 163–171 (1986)

  6. 6.

    , & What does an erupting nova do to its red dwarf companion? Astrophys. J. 325, 828–836 (1988)

  7. 7.

    et al. An ancient nova shell around the dwarf nova Z Camelopardalis. Nature 446, 159–162 (2007)

  8. 8.

    et al. AT Cnc: a second dwarf nova with a classical nova shell. Astrophys. J. 758, 121 (2012)

  9. 9.

    , & V1213 Centauri. IAU Circ. 9043, 1 (2009)

  10. 10.

    The All Sky Automated Survey. Acta Astron. 47, 467–481 (1997)

  11. 11.

    et al. A spectroscopic and photometric survey of novae in M31. Astrophys. J. 734, 12 (2011)

  12. 12.

    Photometric and spectroscopic properties of novae in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Astron. J. 145, 117 (2013)

  13. 13.

    V1213 Centauri. IAU Circ. 9043, 2 (2009)

  14. 14.

    , , , & The Stony Brook/SMARTS Atlas of (mostly) Southern Novae. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 124, 1057–1072 (2012)

  15. 15.

    et al. Swift super soft X-ray detection in Nova V1213 Centauri. Astron. Telegr. 2904 (2010)

  16. 16.

    et al. Swift X-ray observations of classical novae. II. The super soft source sample. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 197, 31 (2011)

  17. 17.

    , & OGLE-IV: fourth phase of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. Acta Astron. 65, 1–38 (2015)

  18. 18.

    et al. OGLE atlas of classical novae. I. Galactic bulge objects. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 219, 26 (2015)

  19. 19.

    Preeruption light curves of novae. Astron. J. 80, 515–524 (1975)

  20. 20.

    et al. The behavior of novae light curves before eruption. Astron. J. 138, 1846–1873 (2009)

  21. 21.

    et al. One thousand new dwarf novae from the OGLE survey. Acta Astron. 65, 313–328 (2015)

  22. 22.

    On the MV relation for accretion disks in cataclysmic binaries. Acta Astron. 39, 317–321 (1989)

  23. 23.

    , & Three in one go: consequential angular momentum loss can solve major problems of CV evolution. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 455, L16–L20 (2016)

  24. 24.

    , , , & The formation of cataclysmic variables: the influence of nova eruptions. Astrophys. J. 817, 69 (2016)

  25. 25.

    & An extended grid of multicycle nova evolution models. Astrophys. J. 445, 789–810 (1995)

  26. 26.

    & Spectroscopy and orbital periods of the old novae V533 Herculis, V446 Herculis and X Serpentis. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 312, 629–637 (2000)

  27. 27.

    , & Periodic outbursts in the old nova V446 Herculis. Astrophys. J. 446, 838 (1995)

  28. 28.

    Identification of V1017 Sgr as a cataclysmic variable binary system with unusually long period. Nature 358, 563–565 (1992)

  29. 29.

    et al. BK Lyncis: the oldest old nova and a bellwether for cataclysmic variable evolution. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 434, 1902–1919 (2013)

  30. 30.

    in ASP Conf. Ser. Vol. 490 Stella Novae: Past and Future Decades (eds & ) 3–28 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1998)

  31. 31.

    Observations from the AVSO International Database. (2016)

  32. 32.

    & UBV photometry of novae. Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 70, 125–140 (1987)

  33. 33.

    & The relation between optical extinction and hydrogen column density in the Galaxy. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 400, 2050–2053 (2009)

  34. 34.

    , , & The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. Final reductions of the OGLE-III data. Acta Astron. 58, 69–87 (2008)

  35. 35.

    et al. The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. OGLE-III photometric maps of the galactic disk fields. Acta Astron. 60, 295–304 (2010)

  36. 36.

    Difference image analysis of the OGLE-II bulge data. I. The method. Acta Astron. 50, 421–450 (2000)

  37. 37.

    et al. The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. Planetary and low-luminosity object transits in the fields of galactic disk. Results of the 2003 OGLE observing campaigns. Acta Astron. 54, 313–345 (2004)

  38. 38.

    DAOPHOT—a computer program for crowded-field stellar photometry. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 99, 191–222 (1987)

  39. 39.

    , & Statistical analysis of properties of dwarf nova outbursts. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 460, 2526–2541 (2016)

  40. 40.

    Distances and absolute magnitudes of dwarf novae: murmurs of period bounce. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 441, 2965–2716 (2011)

  41. 41.

    & Catalogue of cataclysmic binaries, low-mass X-ray binaries and related objects. Astron. Astrophys. 404, 301–303 (2003)

  42. 42.

    Absolute magnitudes of cataclysmic variables. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 227, 23–73 (1987)

Download references


We thank M. Kubiak and G. Pietrzyński, former members of the OGLE team, for their contribution to the collection of the OGLE photometric data over the past years. P.M. is supported by the ‘Diamond Grant’ (number DI2013/014743) funded by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The OGLE project has received funding from the National Science Center, Poland (grant number MAESTRO 2014/14/A/ST9/00121 to A.U.). We acknowledge the variable star observations from the AAVSO International Database contributed by observers worldwide and used in this research.

Author information


  1. Warsaw University Observatory, Aleje Ujazdowskie 4, 00-478 Warsaw, Poland

    • Przemek Mróz
    • , Andrzej Udalski
    • , Paweł Pietrukowicz
    • , Michał K. Szymański
    • , Igor Soszyński
    • , Łukasz Wyrzykowski
    • , Radosław Poleski
    • , Szymon Kozłowski
    • , Jan Skowron
    • , Krzysztof Ulaczyk
    • , Dorota Skowron
    •  & Michał Pawlak
  2. Department of Astronomy, Ohio State University, 140 West 18th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA

    • Radosław Poleski
  3. Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK

    • Krzysztof Ulaczyk


  1. Search for Przemek Mróz in:

  2. Search for Andrzej Udalski in:

  3. Search for Paweł Pietrukowicz in:

  4. Search for Michał K. Szymański in:

  5. Search for Igor Soszyński in:

  6. Search for Łukasz Wyrzykowski in:

  7. Search for Radosław Poleski in:

  8. Search for Szymon Kozłowski in:

  9. Search for Jan Skowron in:

  10. Search for Krzysztof Ulaczyk in:

  11. Search for Dorota Skowron in:

  12. Search for Michał Pawlak in:


P.M. analysed and interpreted the data, and prepared the manuscript. A.U. reduced and analysed the OGLE photometry. P.P. analysed the Very Large Telescope data. All authors collected the OGLE photometric observations and commented on the present results and on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Przemek Mróz.

The time-series photometry of V1213 Cen is available to the astronomical community from the OGLE Internet Archive (ftp://ftp.astrouw.edu.pl/ogle/ogle4/V1213Cen).

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks M. Shara and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history







By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.