Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Largest collection of anomalous white dwarfs observed in new Hubble images

Twenty-four unusual stars, 18 of them newly discovered, have been observed in new Hubble telescope images. The stars are white dwarfs, a common type of dead star, but they are odd because they are made of helium rather than the usual carbon and oxygen.

This is the first extensive sequence of helium-core white dwarfs to be observed in a globular cluster, a dense swarm of some of the oldest stars in our galaxy.

A study, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, suggests that these helium-core white dwarfs have had their lives cut short because of their orbital dance around a partner star.

"Helium-core white dwarfs have only about half the mass of typical white dwarfs, but they are found concentrated in the center of the cluster" said Adrienne Cool, professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University, who co-authored the study with graduate student Rachel R. Strickler. "With such low masses, the helium-core white dwarfs ought to be floating all around the cluster, according to theory. The fact that we find them only in the central regions suggests that they have heavy companions -- partner stars that anchor them to the cluster center."

Being coupled with companions also helps explain the stars' atypical chemical make up. White dwarfs are stars that have reached the end of their lives and have run out of fuel. Most stars burn their fuel leaving behind a dense ball of carbon and oxygen, but these white dwarfs are made of helium. Cool suggests that a star that goes on to become a helium-core white dwarf must have a close companion so that when the star became a red giant and expanded, its outer layers spilled onto the companion. The star never had the chance to reach maturity and burn its helium into carbon and oxygen.

The study focused on star cluster NGC 6397, one of the globular clusters closest to Earth at approximately 7,200 light years away. Six helium-core white dwarfs have been observed before in this cluster. Cool and colleagues discovered the first three in 1998.

"This is the first time that helium-core white dwarf stars have been discovered in partnerships with other white dwarfs in a globular cluster," Cool said. "This large sample allows us to answer questions about the mass and nature of the partner stars, and the prevalence of these kinds of binaries in the globular cluster."

Binary stars play an important role in the evolution of star clusters. Their continual dance around each other provides energy to the cluster that astronomers believe can help prevent black holes from forming. From the data, Cool and her team are able to infer that one to five percent of stars in this globular cluster will end their lives as helium-core white dwarfs with companion stars, a finding that will help improve theoretical models of cluster dynamics. "It may not sound like a lot but it doesn't take many binaries to stir things up," Cool said.

One finding remains a mystery. Despite the Hubble camera's high level of sensitivity, the faintest helium-core white dwarfs appear to be missing.

"It's possible that these helium-core white dwarfs cool so slowly that they haven't had time to get very faint yet," Cool said. Another possibility is that the oldest binaries containing helium-core white dwarfs have been destroyed by interactions with other stars in the cluster.

Adrienne Cool is professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University. Cool co-authored the paper with former SF State student Rachel R. Strickler, now a graduate student at University of California, Santa Cruz. Other collaborators include Jay Anderson, Haldan N. Cohn, Phyllis M. Lugger and Aldo M. Serenelli. The research was supported by NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

"Helium-Core White Dwarfs in the Globular Cluster NGC 6397" will be published in the July 1, 2009 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

A high-resolution image from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys is available from Elaine Bible,, (415) 405-3606.

Elaine Bible | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm
23.03.2018 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics

nachricht Drug or duplicate?
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>