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    We present a comprehensive overview of a volume-complete sample of white dwarfs located within 40 pc of the Sun, a significant proportion of which were detected in Gaia Data Release 3 (DR3). Our DR3 sample contains 1076 spectroscopically confirmed white dwarfs, with just five candidates within the volume remaining unconfirmed (> 99 per cent spectroscopic completeness). Additionally, 28 white dwarfs were not in our initial selection from Gaia DR3, most of which are in unresolved binaries. We use Gaia DR3 photometry and astrometry to determine a uniform set of white dwarf parameters, including mass, effective temperature, and cooling age. We assess the demographics of the 40 pc sample, specifically magnetic fields, binarity, space density, and mass distributions.

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    There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that planetary systems can survive beyond the main sequence. Most commonly, white dwarfs are found to be accreting material from tidally disrupted asteroids, whose bulk compositions are reflected by the metals polluting the stellar photospheres. While many examples are known, most lack the deep, high-resolution data required to detect multiple elements, and thus characterize the planetesimals that orbit them. Here, spectra of seven DZ white dwarfs observed with Keck High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) are analysed, where up to nine metals are measured per star. Their compositions are compared against those of Solar system objects, working in a Bayesian framework to infer or marginalize over the accretion history. All of the stars have been accreting primitive material, similar to chondrites, with hints of a Mercury-like composition at one star. The most polluted star is observed several Myr after its last major accretion episode, in which a Moon-sized object met its demise.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2024

    We present an analysis of spectroscopic data of the cool, highly magnetic, and polluted white dwarf 2MASS J0916−4215. The atmosphere of the white dwarf is dominated by hydrogen, but numerous spectral lines of magnesium, calcium, titanium, chromium, iron, and strontium, along with Li i, Na i, Al i, and K i lines, are found in the incomplete Paschen–Back regime, most visibly, in the case of Ca ii lines. Extensive new calculations of the Paschen–Back effect in several spectral lines are presented and results of the calculations are tabulated for the Ca ii H&K doublet. The abundance pattern shows a large lithium and strontium excess, which may be viewed as a signature of planetary debris akin to Earth’s continental crust accreted on to the star, although the scarcity of silicon indicates possible dilution in bulk Earth material. Accurate abundance measurements proved sensitive to the value of the broadening parameter due to collisions with neutral hydrogen ($\Gamma$H i), particularly in saturated lines such as the resonance lines of Ca i and Ca ii. We found that $\Gamma$H i if formulated with values from the literature could be overestimated by a factor of 10 in most resonance lines.

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    Observations of planetary material polluting the atmospheres of white dwarfs are an important probe of the bulk composition of exoplanetary material. Medium- and high-resolution optical and ultraviolet spectroscopy of seven white dwarfs with known circumstellar dust and gas emission are presented. Detections or meaningful upper limits for photospheric absorption lines are measured for: C, O, Na, S, P, Mg, Al, Si, Ca, Ti, Cr, Fe, and Ni. For 16 white dwarfs with known observable gaseous emission discs (and measured photospheric abundances), there is no evidence that their accretion rates differ, on average, from those without detectable gaseous emission. This suggests that, typically, accretion is not enhanced by gas drag. At the effective temperature range of the white dwarfs in this sample (16 000–25 000 K) the abundance ratios of elements are more consistent than absolute abundances when comparing abundances derived from spectroscopic white dwarf parameters versus photometric white dwarf parameters. Crucially, this highlights that the uncertainties on white dwarf parameters do not prevent white dwarfs from being utilized to study planetary composition. The abundances of oxygen and silicon for the three hydrogen-dominated white dwarfs in the sample with both optical and ultraviolet spectra differ by 0.62 dex depending on if they are derived from the optical or ultraviolet spectra. This optical/ultraviolet discrepancy may be related to differences in the atmospheric depth of line formation; further investigations into the white dwarf atmospheric modelling are needed to understand this discrepancy.

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    Two recently discovered white dwarfs, WD J041246.84 + 754942.26 and WD J165335.21 − 100116.33, exhibit Hα and Hβ Balmer line emission similar to stars in the emerging DAHe class, yet intriguingly have not been found to have detectable magnetic fields. These white dwarfs are assigned the spectral type DAe. We present detailed follow-up of the two known DAe stars using new time-domain spectroscopic observations and analysis of the latest photometric time-series data from TESS and ZTF. We measure the upper magnetic field strength limit of both stars as B < 0.05 MG. The DAe white dwarfs exhibit photometric and spectroscopic variability, where in the case of WD J041246.84 + 754942.26 the strength of the Hα and Hβ emission cores varies in antiphase with its photometric variability over the spin period, which is the same phase relationship seen in DAHe stars. The DAe white dwarfs closely cluster in one region of the Gaia Hertzsprung–Russell diagram together with the DAHe stars. We discuss current theories on non-magnetic and magnetic mechanisms which could explain the characteristics observed in DAe white dwarfs, but additional data are required to unambiguously determine the origin of these stars.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 29, 2024
  6. Abstract

    We present observations and analyses of eight white dwarf stars (WDs) that have accreted rocky material from their surrounding planetary systems. The spectra of these helium-atmosphere WDs contain detectable optical lines of all four major rock-forming elements (O, Mg, Si, and Fe). This work increases the sample of oxygen-bearing WDs with parent body composition analyses by roughly 33%. To first order, the parent bodies that have been accreted by the eight WDs are similar to those of chondritic meteorites in relative elemental abundances and oxidation states. Seventy-five percent of the WDs in this study have observed oxygen excesses implying volatiles in the parent bodies with abundances similar to those of chondritic meteorites. Three WDs have oxidation states that imply more reduced material than found in CI chondrites, indicating the possible detection of Mercury-like parent bodies, but are less constrained. These results contribute to the recurring conclusion that extrasolar rocky bodies closely resemble those in our solar system, and do not, as a whole, yield unusual or unique compositions.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  7. Abstract

    Ultraviolet and optical spectra of the hydrogen-dominated atmosphere white dwarf star G238-44 obtained with FUSE, Keck/HIRES, HST/COS, and HST/STIS reveal 10 elements heavier than helium: C, N, O, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Ca, and Fe. G238-44 is only the third white dwarf with nitrogen detected in its atmosphere from polluting planetary system material. Keck/HIRES data taken on 11 nights over 24 yr show no evidence for variation in the equivalent width of measured absorption lines, suggesting stable and continuous accretion from a circumstellar reservoir. From measured abundances and limits on other elements, we find an anomalous abundance pattern and evidence for the presence of metallic iron. If the pollution is from a single parent body, then it would have no known counterpart within the solar system. If we allow for two distinct parent bodies, then we can reproduce the observed abundances with a mix of iron-rich Mercury-like material and an analog of an icy Kuiper Belt object with a respective mass ratio of 1.7:1. Such compositionally disparate objects would provide chemical evidence for both rocky and icy bodies in an exoplanetary system and would be indicative of a planetary system so strongly perturbed that G238-44 is able to capture both asteroid and Kuiper Belt–analog bodies near-simultaneously within its <100 Myr cooling age.

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  8. Abstract

    Polluted white dwarfs (WDs) offer a unique way to study the bulk compositions of exoplanetary material, but it is not always clear if this material originates from comets, asteroids, moons, or planets. We combineN-body simulations with an analytical model to assess the prevalence of extrasolar moons as WD polluters. Using a sample of observed polluted WDs, we find that the extrapolated parent body masses of the polluters are often more consistent with those of many solar system moons, rather than solar-like asteroids. We provide a framework for estimating the fraction of WDs currently undergoing observable moon accretion based on results from simulated WD planetary and moon systems. Focusing on a three-planet WD system of super-Earth to Neptune-mass bodies, we find that we could expect about one percent of such systems to be currently undergoing moon accretions as opposed to asteroid accretion.

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  9. Abstract

    We present a spectroscopic survey of 248 white dwarf candidates within 40 pc of the Sun; of these 244 are in the Southern hemisphere. Observations were performed mostly with the Very Large Telescope (X-Shooter) and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope. Almost all candidates were selected from Gaia Data Release 3 (DR3). We find a total of 246 confirmed white dwarfs, 209 of which had no previously published spectra, and two main-sequence star contaminants. Of these, 100 white dwarfs display hydrogen Balmer lines, 69 have featureless spectra, and two show only neutral helium lines. Additionally, 14 white dwarfs display traces of carbon, while 37 have traces of other elements that are heavier than helium. We observe 35 magnetic white dwarfs through the detection of Zeeman splitting of their hydrogen Balmer or metal spectral lines. High spectroscopic completeness (> 97 per cent) has now been reached, such that we have 1058 confirmed Gaia DR3 white dwarfs out of 1083 candidates within 40 pc of the Sun at all declinations.

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  10. Abstract

    We present follow-up photometry and spectroscopy of ZTF J0328−1219, strengthening its status as a white dwarf exhibiting transiting planetary debris. Using TESS and Zwicky Transient Facility photometry, along with follow-up high-speed photometry from various observatories, we find evidence for two significant periods of variability at 9.937 and 11.2 hr. We interpret these as most likely the orbital periods of different debris clumps. Changes in the detailed dip structures within the light curves are observed on nightly, weekly, and monthly timescales, reminiscent of the dynamic behavior observed in the first white dwarf discovered to harbor a disintegrating asteroid, WD 1145+017. We fit previously published spectroscopy along with broadband photometry to obtain new atmospheric parameters for the white dwarf, with M= 0.731 ± 0.023 M,Teff= 7630 ± 140 K, and [Ca/He] = − 9.55 ± 0.12. With new high-resolution spectroscopy, we detect prominent and narrow Na D absorption features likely of circumstellar origin, with velocities 21.4 ± 1.0 km s−1 blueshifted relative to atmospheric lines. We attribute the periodically modulated photometric signal to dusty effluents from small orbiting bodies such as asteroids or comets, but we are unable to identify the most likely material that is being sublimated, or otherwise ejected, as the environmental temperatures range from roughly 400 to 700 K.

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