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A Star Quite Similar to the Moon yet More Massive than the Sun Thrills Astronomers

by Sushree Mohanty

A Star Quite Similar to the Moon yet More Massive than the Sun Thrills Astronomers

July 1, 2021

If you are wondering about how a star can be similar to the moon but more massive than the Sun, astrophysicists are more thrilled to find out that it might be on the verge of collapsing into a neutron star. Scientists suggest that a new-found tiny yet mighty white dwarf that's slightly larger than the moon in size but is 1.4 times more than the mass of our sun.

The White Dwarf

Coined by Willem Luyten in 1922, a White Dwarf is a smoldering stellar core remnant or cinder composed mostly of electron degenerate matter. Before that, the first unusual faintness of white dwarfs was recognized in 1910.

They are considered to be the final evolutionary state of stars after the stars have exhausted their nuclear fuel. These dwarf stars are generally the ones with low mass i.e. not enough to end up as a neutron star or a black hole.

White dwarfs are very dense. Its size can be equal to the Moon but the mass is comparable or more than our Sun. However, such a feature can explain why scientists are curious and concerned about the newfound white dwarf. They say that it might be on the verge of collapsing into a neutron star.

The luminous feature comes from the emission of already stored thermal energy. Unlike the Sun turning hydrogen nuclei into helium, no nuclear fusion takes place inside a white dwarf.

White dwarfs are formed when stars more massive than our sun are on the verge of ending their lives, exploding or collapsing. It is quite paradoxical when scientists study about a star more massive than the Sun or the red giants that can run out of nuclear fuel and turn into a smoldering cinder.

The nearest known white dwarf is Sirius B, at around 8.6 light-years across. It is the smallest component or debris of the Sirius binary star. Unaware of the mysteries within the Universe, currently there are eight white dwarfs among the neighboring star systems.

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ZTF J1901+1458 is one of the smallest yet massive white dwarf stars that has been ever spotted.

Tiny yet Massive ZTF J1901+1458

While astrophysics and cosmology are aiming at a milestone to uncover the secrets hidden within our Universe, the Universe also has ways to surprise us. Astronomers have discovered a white dwarf in the form of a smoldering cinder, formed around 4,300 kilometers across.

ZTF J1901+1458 is one of the smallest yet massive white dwarf stars that has been ever spotted. Astronomers were filled with excitement and curiosity when they found a white dwarf almost 1.4 times more massive than our Sun but is slightly larger than the Moon in diameter. Scientists are curious that the dead star might be living it’s last days. 

In a study, the researchers explain in detail the discovery and characteristics of ZTF J1901+1458. The white dwarf star is named after Zwicky Transient Facility. It was spotted during a sky survey using the Palomar Observatory in California.

What have Astrophysicists discovered?

Scientists analyzed the information recorded by Zwicky Transient Facility, and this data enlisted as the husk of a blown-out star had thrilled the scientists. To understand and determine the exact characteristics, the scientists gathered the data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, NASA’s Swift observatory, and the Keck telescope in Hawaii.

Scientists believe that the white dwarf originally existed as two smaller stars for billions of years. They underwent evolution before finally merging into a massive white dwarf.

The lead author and astrophysicist, Ilaria Caiazzo says “We caught this very interesting object that wasn’t quite massive enough to explode, we are truly probing how massive a white dwarf can be.”

While the world wonders about what will happen to such a massive dead star, Ilaria Caiazzo adds, “This is highly speculative, but the white dwarf may be massive enough to further collapse into a neutron star.” 

Past research and studies suggest that huge stars collapse into either neutron stars or black holes. However, studies also say that it’s highly speculated that probably there’s one among 10 chances that a white dwarf can collapse into a neutron star.

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