Broadening of Ly alpha by neutral helium in DBA white dwarfs
Published 2018-09-12Version 1
Traces of photospheric hydrogen are detected in at least half of all white dwarfs with helium-dominated atmospheres through the presence of H alpha in high-quality optical spectroscopy. Previous studies have noted significant discrepancies between the hydrogen abundances derived from H alpha and Ly alpha for a number of stars where ultraviolet spectroscopy is also available. We demonstrate that this discrepancy is caused by inadequate treatment of the broadening of Ly alpha by neutral helium. When fitting Hubble Space Telescope COS spectroscopy of 17 DB white dwarfs using our new line profile calculations, we find good agreement between log(H/He) measured from Ly alpha and H alpha. Larger values of log(H/He) based on Ly alpha are still found for three stars, which are among the most distant in our sample, and we show that a small amount of interstellar absorption from neutral hydrogen can account for this discrepancy.