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White Dwarfs and Hot Subdwarf Stars


Spectra of white dwarf candidates in the SDSS Data Release 7 imaging area (7,430 deg2)

Finding Targets

An object whose ANCILLARY_TARGET1 value includes one or more of the bitmasks in the following table was targeted for spectroscopy as part of this ancillary target program. See SDSS-III bitmasks to learn how to use these values to identify objects in this ancillary target program.

(bit name)
Bit Target Description Target density
WHITEDWARF_NEW 42 White dwarf candidate whose spectrum had not been observed previously by the SDSS 0.5
WHITEDWARF_SDSS 43 White dwarf candidate with a pre-existing SDSS spectrum 0.5


The original SDSS data massively increased the number of known white dwarfs, which had an enormous impact on the science of these stars. However, target selection considerations of the original SDSS meant that white dwarf selection was incomplete. This ancillary target program is measuring the spectra of thousands of white dwarfs that were missed by prior SDSS spectroscopic surveys.

SDSS multi-color imaging efficiently distinguishes hot white dwarf and subdwarf stars from the bulk of the stellar and quasar loci in color-color space (Harris et al. 2003). Special target classes in SDSS produced the world's largest spectroscopic samples of white dwarfs (Kleinman et al. 2004; Eisenstein et al. 2006). However, much of SDSS white dwarf targeting required that the objects be unblended, which caused many brighter white dwarfs to be skipped (for a detailed discussion, see Section 5.6 of Eisenstein et al. 2006). This BOSS ancillary targeting program relaxes this requirement and imposes color cuts to focus on warm and hot white dwarfs. Importantly, the BOSS spectral range extends further into the UV, allowing full coverage of the Balmer lines.

Primary contact

Daniel Eisenstein
Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
deisenstein -at-

Target Selection Details

We require targets to be point sources with clean u, g, and r photometry (following the clean point source selection from the DR7 documentation), and USNO counterparts. We restrict to regions inside the DR7 imaging footprint and require that (all magnitudes quoted are extinction-corrected model magnitudes):

Additionally, targets that do not have (u-r) < -0.1 and (g-r) < -0.1 must have USNO proper motions of more than 2 arcsec per century [propermotion > 2 || (dered_g-dered_r < -0.15 && dered_u-dered_r < -0.2)].

Objects satisfying the selection criteria that had not observed in previously by the SDSS are denoted by the WHITEDWARF_NEW target flag, while those with prior SDSS spectra are assigned the WHITEDWARF_SDSS flag. Some of the latter were re-observed with BOSS in order to obtain the extended wavelength coverage that the BOSS spectrograph offers.

The color selection used here includes DA stars with temperatures above ~14,000 K, helium atmosphere white dwarfs above ~8000 K, as well as many rarer classes of white dwarfs. Hot subdwarfs (sdB and sdO) are included as well. Many of these stars are excellent spectrophotometric standards, and can be tested in comparison to the BOSS F-star calibration.

SQL statement used in target selection

SELECT ................
FROM USNO u, Field f, Star s left outer join SpecObjAll sp
ON s.specObjID=sp.specObjID
WHERE dered_g < 19.2
AND u.objID=s.objID
AND f.fieldID=s.fieldID
AND extinction_r < 0.5
AND dered_u-dered_r < 0.4
AND dered_g-dered_r < 0.5
AND dered_g-dered_r > -1
AND dered_u-dered_g < 0.3
AND dered_u-dered_g > -1
AND ( u.propermotion > 2 OR ( dered_g-dered_r < -0.1 AND dered_u-dered_r < -0.1))
AND ((flags_u & 0x10000000) != 0)
AND ((flags_u & 0x8100000c00a4) = 0)
AND (((flags_u & 0x400000000000) = 0) or (psfmagerr_u <= 0.2))
AND (((flags_u & 0x100000000000) = 0) or (flags_u & 0x1000) = 0)
AND ((flags_g & 0x10000000) != 0)
AND ((flags_g & 0x8100000c00a4) = 0)
AND (((flags_g & 0x400000000000) = 0) or (psfmagerr_g <= 0.2))
AND (((flags_g & 0x100000000000) = 0) or (flags_g & 0x1000) = 0)
AND ((flags_r & 0x10000000) != 0)
AND ((flags_r & 0x8100000c00a4) = 0)
AND (((flags_r & 0x400000000000) = 0) or (psfmagerr_r <= 0.2))
AND (((flags_r & 0x100000000000) = 0) or (flags_r & 0x1000) = 0)


Eisenstein, D. J., et al., 2006, ApJS, 167, 40, doi:10.1086/507110
Harris, H. C., et al., 2003, AJ, 126, 1023, doi:10.1086/376842
Kleinman, S. J., et al., 2004, ApJ, 607, 426, doi:10.1086/383464