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Title: The Q Branch Cooling Anomaly Can Be Explained by Mergers of White Dwarfs and Subgiant Stars

Gaia's exquisite parallax measurements allowed for the discovery and characterization of the Q branch in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, where massive C/O white dwarfs (WDs) pause their dimming due to energy released during crystallization. Interestingly, the fraction of old stars on the Q branch is significantly higher than in the population of WDs that will become Q branch stars or that were Q branch stars in the past. From this, Cheng et al. inferred that ∼6% of WDs passing through the Q branch experience a much longer cooling delay than that of standard crystallizing WDs. Previous attempts to explain this cooling anomaly have invoked mechanisms involving supersolar initial metallicities. In this paper, we describe a novel scenario in which a standard composition WD merges with a subgiant star. The evolution of the resulting merger remnant leads to the creation of a large amount of26Mg, which, along with the existing22Ne, undergoes a distillation process that can release enough energy to explain the Q branch cooling problem without the need for atypical initial abundances. The anomalously high number of old stars on the Q branch may thus be evidence that mass transfer from subgiants to WDs leads to unstable mergers.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Medium: X Size: Article No. L33
["Article No. L33"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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