Accretion and diffusion in white dwarfs
New diffusion timescales and applications to GD 362 and G 29-38
Institut für Theoretische Physik und Astrophysik, University of Kiel, 24098 Kiel, Germany e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 30 January 2009
Context. A number of cool white dwarfs with metal traces, of spectral types DAZ, DBZ, and DZ have been found to exhibit infrared excess radiation due to circumstellar dust. The origin of this dust is possibly a tidally disrupted asteroid that formed a debris disk now supplying the matter accreting onto the white dwarf. To reach any clear conclusions from the observed composition of the white dwarf atmosphere to that of the circumstellar matter, we need a detailed understanding of the accretion and diffusion process, in particular the diffusion timescales.
Aims. We aim to provide data for a wide range of white dwarf parameters and all possible observed chemical elements.
Methods. Starting from atmosphere models, we calculate the structure of the outer envelopes, obtaining the depth of the convection zone and the physical parameters at the lower boundary. These parameters are used to calculate the diffusion velocities using calculations of diffusion coefficients available in the literature.
Results. With a simple example, we demonstrate that the observed element abundances are not identical to the accreted abundances. Reliable conclusions are possible only if we know or can assume that the star has reached a steady state between accretion and diffusion. In this case, most element abundances differ only by factors in the range 2-4 between atmospheric values and the circumstellar matter. Knowing the diffusion timescales, we can also accurately relate the accreted abundances to the observed ones. If accretion has stopped, or if the rates vary by large amounts, we cannot determine the composition of the accreted matter with any certainty.
Key words: stars: white dwarfs / stars: abundances / accretion, accretion disks / diffusion
© ESO, 2009