The long-term evolution of double white dwarf mergers

Ken J. Shen, Lars Bildsten, Daniel Kasen, Eliot Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Scopus citations


In this paper, we present a model for the long-term evolution of the merger of two unequal mass C/O white dwarfs (WDs). After the dynamical phase of the merger, magnetic stresses rapidly redistribute angular momentum, leading to nearly solid-body rotation on a viscous timescale of 10-4-1yr, long before significant cooling can occur. Due to heating during the dynamical and viscous phases, the less massive WD is transformed into a hot, slowly rotating, and radially extended envelope supported by thermal pressure. Following the viscous phase of evolution, the maximum temperature near the envelope base may already be high enough to begin off-center convective carbon burning. If not, Kelvin-Helmholtz contraction of the inner region of the envelope on a thermal timescale of 103-104yr compresses the base of the envelope, again yielding off-center burning. As a result, the long-term evolution of the merger remnant is similar to that seen in previous calculations: the burning shell diffuses inward over 104yr, eventually yielding a high-mass O/Ne WD or a collapse to a neutron star, rather than a Type Ia supernova. During the cooling and shell-burning phases, the merger remnant radiates near the Eddington limit. Given the double WD merger rate of a few per 1000yr, a few dozen of these 1038 erg s -1 sources should exist in a Milky Way type galaxy. While the end result is similar to that of previous studies, the physical picture and the dynamical state of the matter in our model differ from previous work. Furthermore, substantial remaining uncertainties related to the convective structure near the photosphere and mass loss during the thermal evolution may significantly affect our conclusions. Thus, future work within the context of the physical model presented here is required to better address the eventual fate of double WD mergers, including those for which one or both of the components is a He WD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number35
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • binaries: close
  • nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • supernovae: general
  • white dwarfs


Dive into the research topics of 'The long-term evolution of double white dwarf mergers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this