Most observations of polluted white dwarf atmospheres are consistent with accretion of water-depleted planetary material. Among tens of known cases, merely two involve accretion of objects that contain a considerable mass fraction of water. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relative scarcity of these detections. Based on a new and highly detailed model, we evaluate the retention of water inside icy minor planets during the high-luminosity stellar evolution that follows the main sequence. Our model fully considers the thermal, physical, and chemical evolution of icy bodies, following their internal differentiation as well as water depletion, from the moment of their birth and through all stellar evolution phases preceding the formation of the white dwarf. We also account for different initial compositions and formation times. Our results differ from previous studies, which have either underestimated or overestimated water retention. We show that water can survive in a variety of circumstances and in great quantities, and therefore other possibilities are discussed in order to explain the infrequency of water detection. We predict that the sequence of accretion is such that water accretes earlier, and more rapidly, than the rest of the silicate disk, considerably reducing the chance of its detection in H-dominated atmospheres. In He-dominated atmospheres, the scarcity of water detections could be observationally biased. It implies that the accreted material is typically intrinsically dry, which may be the result of the inside-out depopulation sequence of minor planets.
- white dwarfs