Date of Award

8-3-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Dr. Todd J. Henry - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Pierre Bergeron

Third Advisor

Dr. Douglas R. Gies

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Philip A. Ianna

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Harold A. McAlister

Sixth Advisor

Dr. William H. Nelson

Abstract

The study of white dwarfs (WDs) provides insight into understanding WD formation rates, evolution, and space density. Individually, nearby WDs are excellent candidates for astrometric planetary searches because the astrometric signature is greater than for an identical, more distant WD system. As a population, a complete volume-limited sample is necessary to provide unbiased statistics; however, their intrinsic faintness has allowed some to escape detection.

The aim of this dissertation is to identify nearby WDs, accurately characterize them, and target a subset of potentially interesting WDs for follow-up analyses. The most unambiguous method of identifying new WDs is by their proper motions. After evaluating all previous southern hemisphere proper motion catalogs and selecting viable candidates, we embarked on our own southern hemisphere proper motion survey, the SuperCOSMOS-RECONS (SCR) survey. A number of interesting objects were discovered during the survey, including the 24th nearest star system -- an M dwarf with a brown dwarf companion. After a series of spectroscopic observations, a total of 56 new WD systems was identified (18 from the SCR survey and 38 from other proper motion surveys).

CCD photometry was obtained for most of the 56 new systems in an effort to model the physical parameters and obtain distance estimates via spectral energy distribution fitting. An independent distance estimate was also obtained by deriving a color-MV relation for several colors based on WDs with known distances. Any object whose distance estimate was within 25 pc was targeted for a trigonometric parallax via our parallax program, CTIOPI.

Currently, there are 62 WD systems on CTIOPI. A subset of 53 systems has enough data for at least a preliminary parallax (24 are definitive). Of those 53 systems, nine are previously known WDs within 10 pc that we are monitoring for perturbations from unseen companions, and an additional 29 have distances within 25 pc. Previously, there were 109 known WDs with parallaxes placing them within 25 pc; therefore, our effort has already increased the nearby sample by 27%. In addition, at least two objects show hints of perturbations from unseen companions and need follow-up analyses.

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