The merger rate of binary white dwarfs in the galactic disk

Carles Badenes*, Dan Maoz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


We use multi-epoch spectroscopy of ∼4000 white dwarfs in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to constrain the properties of the Galactic population of binary white dwarf systems and calculate their merger rate. With a Monte Carlo code, we model the distribution of ΔRVmax, the maximum radial velocity shift between exposures of the same star, as a function of the binary fraction within 0.05AU, f bin, and the power-law index in the separation distribution at the end of the common-envelope phase, α. Although there is some degeneracy between f bin and α, the 15 high-ΔRVmax systems that we find constrain the combination of these parameters, which determines a white dwarf merger rate per unit stellar mass of 1.4+3.4 -1.0 × 10-13yr -1 M -1 (1σ limits). This is remarkably similar to the measured rate of Type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia) per unit stellar mass in Milky-Way-like Sbc galaxies. The rate of super-Chandrasekhar mergers is only 1.0+1.6 -0.6 × 10 -14yr-1 M -1 . We conclude that there are not enough close binary white dwarf systems to reproduce the observed SN Ia rate in the "classic" double degenerate super-Chandrasekhar scenario. On the other hand, if sub-Chandrasekhar mergers can lead to SNe Ia, as has been recently suggested by some studies, they could make a major contribution to the overall SN Ia rate. Although unlikely, we cannot rule out contamination of our sample by M-dwarf binaries or non-Gaussian errors. These issues will be clarified in the near future by completing the follow-up of all 15 high-ΔRVmax systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL11
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Apr 2012


FundersFunder number
Seventh Framework Programme276988


    • binaries: close
    • supernovae: general
    • white dwarfs


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