Magnetic field breakout from white dwarf crystallization dynamos

Daniel Blatman, Sivan Ginzburg

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A convective dynamo operating during the crystallization of white dwarfs is one of the promising channels to produce their observed strong magnetic fields. Although the magnitude of the fields generated by crystallization dynamos is uncertain, their timing may serve as an orthogonal test of this channel’s contribution. The carbon–oxygen cores of M ≈ 0.5 − 1.0 M⨀ white dwarfs begin to crystallize at an age tcryst ∝ M−5/3, but the magnetic field is initially trapped in the convection zone – deep inside the CO core. Only once a mass of mcryst has crystallized, the convection zone approaches the white dwarf’s helium layer, such that the magnetic diffusion time through the envelope shortens sufficiently for the field to break out to the surface, where it can be observed. This breakout time is longer than tcryst by a few Gyr, scaling as tbreak ∝ tcrystf−1/2, where f ≡ 1 − mcryst/M depends on the white dwarf’s initial C/O profile before crystallization. The first appearance of strong magnetic fields B ≿ 1 MG in volume-limited samples approximately coincides with our numerically computed tbreak(M) – potentially signalling crystallization dynamos as a dominant magnetization channel. However, some observed magnetic white dwarfs are slightly younger, challenging this scenario. The dependence of the breakout process on the white dwarf’s C/O profile implies that magnetism may probe the CO phase diagram, as well as uncertainties during the core helium burning phase in the white dwarf’s progenitor, such as the 12C(α, γ)16O nuclear reaction.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3153-3162
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024

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  • stars: interiors
  • stars: magnetic fields
  • white dwarfs


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