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Preprint C/04

Do weak magnetic fields prevent hydrogen from accreting onto metal-line white dwarf stars?

Susanne Friedrich (1), Stefan Jordan (2,3), Detlev Koester (4)

(1) Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany
(2) Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Univ. Tübingen, Germany
(3) Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Heidelberg, Germany
(4) Institut für Theoretische Physik und Astrophysik, Univ. Kiel, Germany

To be published in: A&A

Abstract. The widely accepted assumption is that metals detected in the spectra of a few cool helium-rich white dwarfs cannot be of primordial origin and therefore must be accreted from the interstellar medium. However, the observed abundances of hydrogen are much too low to be compatible with the high accretion rates inferred from metal accretion. Hydrogen accretion is therefore suppressed compared to metal accretion. The hypothesis most widely discussed as cause for this "hydrogen screening" is the propeller mechanism: Metals are accreted in the form of grains onto a slowly rotating, weakly magnetized white dwarf, whereas ionized hydrogen is repelled at the Alfvén radius. We have obtained circular polarization spectra of the helium-rich white dwarfs GD 40 (WD0300-013) and L745-46A (WD0738-172) - which both show strong metal lines as well as hydrogen - in order to search for signatures of a weak magnetic field. The magnetic field strengths necessary for the propeller mechanism to work in these stars are at least 144000 G and 3000 G, respectively. Whereas L745-46A might have a magnetic field of about -6900 G no magnetic field could be found with an upper limit for the field strength of 4000 G (with 99% confidence) for GD 40.


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