Pulsating or not? A search for hidden pulsations below the red edge of the ZZ Ceti instability strip*
Lund Observatory, Box 43, 22100 Lund, Sweden
2 Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, PO Box 80000, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: M.H.vanKerkwijk@astro.uu.nl
3 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3255, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
4 Lowell Observatory, 1400 W Mars Hill Rd., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA e-mail: email@example.com
Corresponding author: R. Kotak, firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 4 June 2002
The location of the red edge of the ZZ Ceti instability strip is defined observationally as being the lowest temperature for which a white dwarf with a H-rich atmosphere (DA) is known to exhibit periodic brightness variations. Whether this cut-off in flux variations is actually due to a cessation of pulsation or merely due to the attenuation of any variations by the convection zone, rendering them invisible, is not clear. The latter is a theoretical possibility because with decreasing effective temperature, the emergent flux variations become an ever smaller fraction of the amplitude of the flux variations in the interior. In contrast to the flux variations, the visibility of the velocity variations associated with the pulsations is not thought to be similarly affected. Thus, models imply that were it still pulsating, a white dwarf just below the observed red edge should show velocity variations. In order to test this possibility, we used time-resolved spectra of three DA white dwarfs that do not show photometric variability, but which have derived temperatures only slightly lower than the coolest ZZ Ceti variables. We find that none of our three targets show significant periodic velocity variations, and set 95% confidence limits on amplitudes of 3.0, 5.2, and 8.8 km s-1. Thus, for two out of our three objects, we can rule out velocity variations as large as 5.4 observed for the strongest mode in the cool white dwarf pulsator ZZ Psc. In order to verify our procedures, we also examined similar data of a known ZZ Ceti, HL Tau 76. Applying external information from the light curve, we detect significant velocity variations for this object with amplitudes of up to 4 km s-1. Our results suggest that substantial numbers of pulsators having large velocity amplitudes do not exist below the observed photometric red edge and that the latter probably reflects a real termination of pulsations.
Key words: stars: white dwarfs / stars: oscillations / convection
The data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation.
© ESO, 2002