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Can R Coronae Borealis stars form from the merger of two helium white dwarfs?


E-mail: (XZ); (CSJ)


Due to orbital decay by gravitational wave radiation, some close binary helium white dwarfs are expected to merge within a Hubble time. The immediate merger products are believed to be He-rich subdwarf O (sdO) stars, essentially helium main-sequence stars. We present new evolution calculations for these post-merger stars beyond the core He-burning phase. The most massive He-rich sdO stars develop a strong He-burning shell and evolve to become He-rich giants. We include nucleosynthesis calculations following the merger of 0.4 M He white dwarf pairs with metallicities Z= 0.0001, 0.004, 0.008 and 0.02. The surface chemistries of the resulting giants are in partial agreement with the observed abundances of R Coronae Borealis (R CrB) and extreme He stars. Such stars might represent a third, albeit rare, evolution channel for the latter, in addition to the CO+He white dwarf merger and the very late thermal pulse channels proposed previously. We confirm a recent suggestion that Li seen in R CrB stars could form naturally during the hot phase of a merger in the presence of 3He from the donor white dwarf.