Interstellar and photospheric opacity from EUV spectroscopy of DA white dwarfs

M. A. Barstow, P. D. Dobbie, J. B. Holberg, I. Hubeny, T. Lanz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


We present a detailed analysis of the extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) spectra of 13 hydrogen-rich DA white dwarfs, observed by the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) satellite, paying attention to the possible sources of absorbing material along the lines of sight both in the local interstellar medium (ISM) and in the photospheres of the stars themselves. The range of interstellar column densities seen are consistent with our previous understanding of the local distribution of material. Absorption from interstellar He II is found in the direction of five stars, allowing us to measure directly the He ionization fraction and estimate, indirectly, that of H. The weighted mean ionization fractions along these lines of sight are 0.27 ± 0.04 and 0.35 ± 0.1 respectively. Where Hen II directly detected, the observed ionization fractions are not correlated with direction or with the volume/column density of material along the line of sight. Furthermore, the limits on the amount of He II established in all other directions completely encompass the range of observed values. Indeed, all the data can be consistent with more or less constant He and H ionization fractions throughout the local ISM. It is clear that there is little photospheric opacity, from either He or heavier elements, in the majority of the stars we have studied. This poses further difficulties in explaining the observed division of white dwarfs into H- and He-rich groups, the temperature gap in the He-rich sequence and the detailed spectral evolution of the H-rich DA white dwarfs as they cool. A striking observational result is that our spectroscopic evidence indicates that radiative levitation effects are only important at temperatures above 50 000 K, rather than the 40 000 K suggested by broad-band photometry. There is clearly an urgent need for further theoretical work on the mechanisms that determine the photospheric composition of white dwarf stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-76
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • ISM: general
  • Stars: atmospheres
  • Ultraviolet: stars
  • White dwarfs
  • X-rays: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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