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A study of white dwarfs in the solar neighbourhood

Kawka, Adela (2003) A study of white dwarfs in the solar neighbourhood. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The aim of this thesis is to revisit the properties of white dwarf stars in the Solar neighbourhood (distance > 100 pc), in particular their magnetic fields, the occurrence of binarity and their space density. This thesis presents observations and analysis of a sample of white dwarfs from the southern hemisphere. Over 80 objects were observed spectroscopically, and 65 of these were also observed with a spectropolarimeter. Many of the white dwarfs observed belong to the Solar neighbourhood, and can be used to study the star formation and evolution in this region.

Our spectropolarimetric measurements helped constrain the fraction of magnetic white dwarfs in the Solar neighbourhood. Combining data from different surveys, I found a higher fraction of these objects in the relatively old local population than in other younger selections such as the Palomar-Green survey which suggests magnetic field evolution in white dwarfs, or different sets of progenitors. The progenitors of magnetic white dwarfs have been assumed to be Ap and Bp stars, however I find that the properties and number of Ap and Bp stars would only explain white dwarfs with magnetic fields larger than 100 MG. The number of known white dwarfs is believed to be complete to about 13 pc, however the sample is certainly incomplete to 20 pc from the Sun. To identify new white dwarfs in the Solar neighbourhood, some possibly magnetic or in binaries, numerous candidate white dwarfs from the Revised NLTT catalogue have been observed, which resulted in the discovery of 13 new white dwarfs, with 4 of these having a distance that places them within 20 pc of the Sun. The candidates were selected using a V - J reduced-proper-motion diagram and optical-infrared diagram. A total of 417 white dwarf candidates were selected, 200 of these have already been spectroscopically confirmed as white dwarfs.

Spectroscopic confirmation is required for the remaining 217 candidates, many of these are likely to belong to the Solar neighbourhood. Four close binaries consisting of a white dwarf and a cool companion were also observed, for which atmospheric and orbital parameters were obtained. The photometry for two of these binary systems, BPM 71214 and EC 13471-1258 shows that the secondary stars are filling their Roche lobes, and combined with their orbital parameters, these systems are very good candidates for hibernating novae. The time of their previous interaction or the extent of this interaction are unknown. The two other binary systems, BPM 6502 and EUVE J0720-31.7 are post-common envelope binaries. BPM 6502 is not expected to interact within a Hubble time, however EUVE J0720-31 is expected to become a cataclysmic variable within a Hubble time. The atmospheric parameters of the white dwarfs were determined using model atmosphere codes which were modified for the present study to include convective energy transfer, self-broadening and Lyman satellite features.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Supervisor: Koch, Rolf
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