Hubble Telescope Directly Measures a White Dwarf Mass for the First Time

A view of LAWD 37 as seen from Hubble.

A look at LAWD 37 as seen band Hubble.
Picture: NASA, ESA, P McGill (Univ. of California, Santa Cruz and University of Cambridge), K. Sahu (STScI), J. Depasquale (STScI)

Astronomers have just directly measured the mass of a lone white dwarf for the first time using the Hubble Space Telescope. The dwarf – the core Remnant of a star – called LAWD 37 and burned out about a billion years ago.

Using Hubble, a team of astronomers observed light from a background star briefly bending around the dwarf as it passed in front of the former. Based on how much of the background light was focused by the dwarf, the researchers were able to determine its mass. Your results were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Kailash Sahu, a co-author of the new article, previously measured the mass of a white dwarf for a stellar remnant in a binary star system. “Our latest observation represents a new benchmark because LAWD 37 is all by itself,” Sahu said in a European Space Agency release.

Although LAWD 37 is no longer undergoing nuclear fusion, the star’s surface is still 180,000° Fahrenheit (100,000° C). the stellar remnant, about 15 light-years from Earth, is now about 56% of the mass of our sun.

The method used to determine the mass of the dwarf – gravitational microlensing – is a small version of Gravitational lensing, where a massive object warps space in such a way that light from behind bends around the object, allowing us to see things that would otherwise be hidden. The lens effect also magnifies light, allowing us to see things that would otherwise be too faint to see.

Last year e.g. Earendel, a nearly 13 billion year old star, has been discovered thanks to this natural magnifying glass Phenomenon.

An illustration showing how Hubble sees light distorted by the gravitational pull of an intermediate object.

To measure LAWD 37, the team had to wait for the dwarf to pass in front of the background star, an event that was predictable thanks to ESA data Gaia Mission. Then the researchers carefully analyzed the background star’s light from the overwhelming brilliance of much closer LAWD 37.

“The magnitude of our measured offset is like measuring the length of a car on the moon as seen from Earth,” said Peter McGill, an astronomer at UC Santa Cruz and the paper’s lead author, at ESA release. “The white dwarf’s glare can cause streaks in unpredictable directions, which means we had to analyze each of Hubble’s observations and their limitations extremely carefully to model the event and estimate the mass of LAWD 37.”

With this information, astronomers will be able to test the mass-radius relationship for other white dwarfs, which in turn will reveal more information about how matter underneath works such extreme gravitational conditions.

Finally – that means about 5 Billions of years – ours The sun also becomes a white dwarf. If it runs out of fuel for its nuclear fusion, the sun will go through its own dramatic death sequence, possibly leaving a glowing nebula in its wake.

The Webb Space Ttelescope (Hubble’s successor (although it mostly observes light at redder wavelengths than Hubble) will be able to make observations of white dwarfs in the same way, using gravitational microlensing. In fact, Webb already has. Some Webb observations of LAWD 66 (another white dwarf) were made in 2022, and more are planned for 2024.

More: Astronomers found an ultradense white star the size of our moon Hubble Telescope Directly Measures a White Dwarf Mass for the First Time

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