Infrared absorption of dense helium and its importance in the atmospheres of cool white dwarfs⋆
IEK-6 Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Wilhelm-Johnen-Strasse, 52425 Jülich, Germany
Received: 20 May 2014
Accepted: 9 June 2014
Aims. Hydrogen-deficient white dwarfs are characterized by very dense, fluid-like atmospheres of complex physics and chemistry that are still poorly understood. The incomplete description of these atmospheres by the models results in serious problems with the description of spectra of these stars and subsequent difficulties in derivation of their surface parameters. Here, we address the problem of infrared (IR) opacities in the atmospheres of cool white dwarfs by direct ab initio simulations of IR absorption of dense helium.
Methods. We applied state-of-the-art density functional theory-based quantum molecular dynamics simulations to obtain the time evolution of the induced dipole moment. The IR absorption coefficients were obtained by the Fourier transform of the dipole moment time autocorrelation function.
Results. We found that a dipole moment is induced due to three- and more-body simultaneous collisions between helium atoms in highly compressed helium. This results in a significant IR absorption that is directly proportional to ρHe3, where ρHe is the density of helium. To our knowledge, this absorption mechanism has never been measured or computed before and is therefore not accounted for in the current atmosphere models. It should dominate the other collisionally induced absorptions (CIA), arising from H−He and H2−He pair collisions, and therefore shape the IR spectra of helium-dominated and pure helium atmosphere cool white dwarfs for He/H > 104.
Conclusions. Our work shows that there exists an unaccounted IR absorption mechanism arising from the multi-collisions between He atoms in the helium-rich atmospheres of cool white dwarfs, including pure helium atmospheres. This absorption may be responsible for a yet unexplained frequency dependence of near- and mid-IR spectra of helium-rich stars.
Key words: atomic processes / dense matter / stars: atmospheres / white dwarfs
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