Scientists Spot Two Dead Stars Dancing in Space

first_imgStay on target Who says the afterlife has to be boring?Two dead stars have been spotted flying around each other every seven minutes.The rare find was made using Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF)—a sky survey at Palomar Observatory that rapidly scans the wild blue yonder for anything that moves, blinks, or varies in brightness.Officially known as ZTF J1539+5027, the dynamic duo is the second-fastest pair of orbiting dead stars—called white dwarfs—discovered to date. And the fastest “eclipsing binary system,” meaning one star repeatedly crosses in front of the other.“As the dimmer star passes in front of the brighter one, it blocks most of the light, resulting in the seven-minute blinking pattern we see in the ZTF data,” according to Caltech graduate student Kevin Burdge, lead author of a new study about the stars.Each celestial object is roughly the size of Earth, though one is a slightly smaller and brighter than its dance partner. Together, they weigh as much as our Sun.The white dwarfs orbit very closely together—at one-fifth the distance between Earth and the Moon, whipping around each other every seven minutes at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.“This pair really stuck out because the signal repeats so often and in such a predictable way,” Burdge said in a statement.The cadaverous bodies began life as a tight-knit pair of stars. As they aged, they swelled into red giants, though not at the same time. Eventually, the swollen stars shed their outer layers, leaving behind two dead orbs—the white dwarfs.“Sometimes these binary white dwarfs merge into one star, and other times the orbit widens as the lighter white dwarf is gradually shredded by the heavier one,” co-author James Fuller, an assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech, explained.“We’re not sure what will happen in this case,” he continued. “But finding more such systems will tell us how often these stars survive their close encounters.”Researchers also hope to calculate the temperature of the hotter white dwarf, estimated to be 50,000 °C—or nine times hotter than the Sun.The Zwicky Transient Facility discovered an unusual pair of white dwarfs, called ZTF J1530+5027, that whip around each other roughly every seven minutes (via Caltech/IPAC)As it “feeds” off its cooler companion, pulling matter from the bigger and lighter white dwarf, the smaller, heavier object begins heating up to “sizzling-hot” conditions.Which is odd, because this “accretion” process is usually associated with X-rays. And scientists aren’t seeing any of those.“One possibility is that the accretion spots on the white dwarf—the areas the material is falling on—are bigger than what is typical, and this could result in the emission of ultraviolet light and optical light instead of X-rays,” Burdge suggested.The team says this tantalizing twosome—located nearly 8,000 light-years away in the Boötes constellation—should keep blinking for another hundred thousand years.Amateur astronomers may even be able to see the pair as one spot in the sky, flashing every seven minutes.More on Simulate Sounds of StarsHigh-Def Images Help Uncover Galaxy’s Oldest Star ClusterAstronomers Catch Young Star in Rare Growth Spurt Scientists Discover Possible Interstellar VisitorWater Vapor Detected on Potentially ‘Habitable’ Planet last_img

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