Cooling Delays from Iron Sedimentation and Iron Inner Cores in White Dwarfs

M. E. Caplan, I. F. Freeman, C. J. Horowitz, A. Cumming, E. P. Bellinger

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11 Scopus citations


Do white dwarfs have inner cores made of iron? Neutron-rich nuclei like 56Fe experience a net gravitational force and sediment toward the core. Using new phase diagrams and molecular dynamics simulations, we show that 56Fe should separate into mesoscopic Fe-rich crystallites due to its large charge relative to the background. At solar abundances, these crystallites rapidly precipitate and form an inner core of order 100 km and 10-3 M⊙ that may be detectable with asteroseismology. Associated cooling delays could be up to a Gyr for low-mass white dwarfs but are only ∼0.1 Gyr for massive white dwarfs, so while this mechanism may contribute to the Q-branch the heating is insufficient to fully explain it.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL12
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

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