On the spectral evolution of cool, helium-atmosphere white dwarfs: Detailed spectroscopic and photometric analysis of DZ stars

P. Dufour, P. Bergeron, James Liebert, H. C. Harris, G. R. Knapp, S. F. Anderson, Patrick B. Hall, Michael A. Strauss, Matthew J. Collinge, Matt C. Edwards

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136 Scopus citations


We present a detailed analysis of a large spectroscopic and photometric sample of DZ white dwarfs based on our latest model atmosphere calculations. We revise the atmospheric parameters of the trigonometric parallax sample of Bergeron, Leggett, & Ruiz (12 stars) and analyze 147 new DZ white dwarfs discovered in the SDSS. The inclusion of metals and hydrogen in our model atmosphere calculations leads to different atmospheric parameters than those derived from pure helium models. Calcium abundances are found in the range from log (Ca/He) = -12 to -8. We also find that fits of the coolest objects show peculiarities, suggesting that our physical models may not correctly describe the conditions of high atmospheric pressure encountered in the coolest DZ stars. We find that the mean mass of the 11 DZ stars with trigonometric parallaxes, 〈M〉 = 0.63 M, is significantly lower than that obtained from pure helium models, 〈M〉 = 0.78 M⊙, and in much better agreement with the mean mass of other types of white dwarfs. We determine hydrogen abundances for 27% of the DZ stars in our sample, while only upper limits are obtained for objects with low-S/N spectroscopic data. We confirm with a high level of confidence that the accretion rate of hydrogen is at least 2 orders of magnitude smaller than that of metals (and up to 5 in some cases) to be compatible with the observations. We find a correlation between the hydrogen abundance and the effective temperature, suggesting for the first time empirical evidence of a lower temperature boundary for the hydrogen screening mechanism. Finally, we speculate on the possibility that the DZA white dwarfs could be the result of the convective mixing of thin hydrogenrich atmospheres with the underlying helium convection zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1291-1308
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Jul 10 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Stars: abundances stars: atmospheres
  • Stars: evolution
  • White dwarfs


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