A search for magnetic fields among DA white dwarfs

Gary D. Schmidt, Paul S. Smith

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139 Scopus citations


A survey for magnetism has been carried out for a magnitude-limited sample of nearly 170 DA white dwarfs utilizing the technique of Zeeman spectropolarimetry. With a mean uncertainty for longitudinal fields 〈σBe〉 = 8600 G, the results provide the first statistically useful survey of white dwarfs for magnetic fields weaker than a few million gauss. An additional, very weak field "minisurvey," with 〈σBe〉 ∼ 2000 G, is also reported. Because DA spectral types comprise nearly 80% of all white dwarfs, the results are very likely representative of the entire class. Four new magnetic stars, with field strengths between ∼105 and nearly 109 G, were discovered, including the three weakest field white dwarfs yet identified. The complete sample of 42 known magnetic examples is enumerated. The incidence of magnetism among white dwarfs is found to be 4.0% ± 1.5% for fields between ∼3 × 104 and 109 G. When broken down by field strength, the detection rate is consistent with being constant at a value of ∼1% per decade interval over the same range in B. There is no evidence thus far for the rapid increase in number of magnetic stars with declining field strength which must eventually occur. Implications for the origin of magnetic white dwarfs and their relation to stars at other stages of evolution are discussed. Several composite-spectrum binaries (DA + dM) were identified in the course of the survey, including one apparently noninteracting system with a photometric period of ∼4 hr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 1995


  • Binaries: general
  • Polarization
  • Stars: magnetic fields
  • White dwarfs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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