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Seismic evidence for the loss of stellar angular momentum before the white-dwarf stage

Abstract

White-dwarf stars represent the final products of the evolution of some 95% of all stars1. If stars were to keep their angular momentum throughout their evolution, their white-dwarf descendants, owing to their compact nature, should all rotate relatively rapidly, with typical periods of the order of a few seconds. Observations of their photospheres show, in contrast, that they rotate much more slowly, with periods ranging from hours to tens of years2,3,4,5. It is not known, however, whether a white dwarf could ‘hide’ some of its original angular momentum below the superficial layers, perhaps spinning much more rapidly inside than at its surface. Here we report a determination of the internal rotation profile of a white dwarf using a method based on asteroseismology. We show that the pulsating white dwarf PG 1159-035 rotates as a solid body (encompassing more than 97.5% of its mass) with the relatively long period of 33.61 ± 0.59 h. This implies that it has lost essentially all of its angular momentum, thus favouring theories which suggest important angular momentum transfer and loss in evolutionary phases before the white-dwarf stage6,7.

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Figure 1: Result of the optimization procedure under the hypothesis that PG 1159-035 rotates as a rigid body.
Figure 2: Observed and calculated rotational splittings in PG 1159-035.
Figure 3: Internal rotation profile of PG 1159-035.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by the NSERC (Canada) and in part by the FQRNT (Québec). G.F. also acknowledges the contribution of the Canada Research Chair Program.

Author Contributions All three authors have contributed equally to this Letter.

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Correspondence to G. Fontaine.

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Charpinet, S., Fontaine, G. & Brassard, P. Seismic evidence for the loss of stellar angular momentum before the white-dwarf stage. Nature 461, 501–503 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08307

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