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Analyses of Polluted White Dwarf Stars with Applications to the Geochemistry of Rocky Exoplanets


In this work, exoplanet-research is combined with the study of the solar system in order to assess differences and similarities between rocky bodies in the Milky Way. To evaluate rocky bodies outside of the solar system, I utilize optical spectroscopy to study polluted white dwarf stars, dense stars that show accretion of planetary material. By observing polluted white dwarfs, we can measure elemental abundances from the rocky and icy bodies that previously orbited the star. Specifically, I conduct observations using the KAST Spectrograph on the Shane 3-meter telescope at Lick Observatory and the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) on the Keck I Telescope, as well as evaluate compiled literature data. Generally, the elemental compositions of extrasolar planetesimals closely resemble those of rocky bodies in the solar system. In this work, a more detailed comparison with solar system meteorites and planets shows that oxidation of planetesimals prior to planet formation is common among extrasolar rocks. Overall, the processes that lead to the geochemistry and much of the geophysics of Earth is normal compared to the current sample of extrasolar planetesimals. Additionally, the origin of excesses in spallogenic nuclides in polluted white dwarfs is investigated. The MeV proton fluence required to form the high Be/O ratio in the accreted parent bodies of two polluted white dwarfs (GALEX J2339-0424 and GD 378) is consistent with irradiation of ice in the rings of a giant planet within its radiation belt, followed by accretion of the ices to form a moon that is later accreted by the WD.

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