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Paper: Trace Hydrogen in Helium Atmosphere White Dwarfs as a Possible Signature of Water Accretion
Volume: 509, 20th European Workshop on White Dwarfs (EuroWD16)
Page: 163
Authors: Gentile-Fusillo, N. P.; Gänsicke, B. T.; Farihi, J.; Koester, D.; Schreiber, M. R.; Pala, A. F.
Abstract: A handful of white dwarfs with helium-dominated atmospheres contain exceptionally large masses of hydrogen in their convection zones, with the metal-polluted white dwarf GD 16 being one of the earliest recognised examples. We report the discovery of a similar star: the white dwarf coincidentally named GD 17. We obtained medium-resolution spectroscopy of both GD 16 and GD 17 and calculated accretion rates and abundances of photospheric H, Mg, Ca, Ti, Fe and Ni. The metal abundance ratios indicate that the two stars recently accreted debris which is Mg-poor compared to the composition of bulk Earth. However, unlike the metal pollutants, H never diffuses out of the atmosphere of white dwarfs and we propose that the exceptionally high atmospheric H content of GD 16 and GD 17 (2.2× 1024g and 2.9× 1024g respectively) could result from previous accretion of water bearing planetesimals. Comparing the detection of trace H and metal pollution among 729 helium atmosphere white dwarfs, we find that the presence of H is nearly twice as common in metal-polluted white dwarfs compared to their metal-free counterparts. This statistically highly significant correlation indicates that a significant amount of H is accreted alongside the metal pollutants in many He atmosphere white dwarfs (including GD 16 and GD 17). We argue that H is most likely accreted in the form of water which must therefore be commonly present in systems with rocky planetesimals.
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