, Volume 50, Issue 1-2, pp 1-8

Two centuries of study of Algol systems

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The periodicity of the light variation of Algol, discovered just over 200 years ago, may be regarded as the beginning of the study of eclipsing binary systems, especially those of the Algol type. Such studies, however, gained no real momentum until Vogel, 100 years ago, demonstrated by spectroscopy that the binary hypothesis of Algol's light changes is, in its essentials, correct. Three elements were needed to give us our modern notions of evolution by mass-transfer, namely: (i) results of combined analysis of light-curves and velocity-curves, (ii) evidence of circumstellar matter within binary systems and (iii) the notion that at least one component of an Algol system was near the limit of dynamical stability. All three entered the literature within about a decade, approximately halfway through the second century of eclipsing-binary studies; but it is the computational and instrumental developments of the last 25 years that have made real progress possible. We still lack commensurate theoretical developments, and the whole question of the contribution of Algol systems to the development of the Galaxy has barely been considered.