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GD 356

Title: Does GD 356 have a Terrestrial Planetary Companion?
Authors: Dayal T. Wickramasinghe, Jay Farihi, Christopher A. Tout, Lilia Ferrario, Richard J. Stancliffe

GD 356 is unique among magnetic white dwarfs because it shows Zeeman-split Balmer lines in pure emission. The lines originate from a region of nearly uniform field strength (delta B/B is approximately 0.1) that covers 10 per cent of the stellar surface in which there is a temperature inversion. The energy source that heats the photosphere remains a mystery but it is likely to be associated with the presence of a companion. Based on current models we use archival Spitzer IRAC observations to place a new and stringent upper limit of 12 Jupiter masses for the mass of such a companion. In the light of this result and the recent discovery of a 115 min photometric period for GD 356, we exclude previous models that invoke accretion and revisit the unipolar inductor model that has been proposed for this system. In this model a highly conducting planet with a metallic core orbits the magnetic white dwarf and, as it cuts through field lines, a current is set flowing between the two bodies. This current dissipates in the photosphere of the white dwarf and causes a temperature inversion. Such a planet is unlikely to have survived the RGB/AGB phases of evolution so we argue that it may have formed from the circumstellar disc of a disrupted He or CO core during a rare merger of two white dwarfs. GD 356 would then be a white dwarf counterpart of the millisecond binary pulsar PSR 1257+12 which is known to host a planetary system.

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Position(2000): RA 16 40 57.16, Dec +53 41 09.6

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