Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Use Hubble To 'Weigh' Dog Star's Companion

Date:
December 14, 2005
Source:
ESA/Hubble Information Centre
Summary:
White dwarfs are important to theories of both stellar and cosmological evolution. New results published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society provide for the first time an accurate measurement of the weight of the nearest white dwarf, Sirius B, companion of the brightest star in the sky. It turns out that Sirius's companion, despite being smaller than the Earth, has a mass that is 98 percent that of our own Sun.

Based on the Hubble measurements made with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, an international team found that Sirius B has a mass that is 98 percent that of our own Sun. Despite this large mass Sirius B is only 12,000 kilometers in diameter, making it smaller than even the Earth and much denser. Sirius B’s powerful gravitational field is 350,000 times greater than Earth’s, meaning that a 68 kilogram person would weigh 25 million kilograms standing on its surface.
Credit: ESA and NASA

For astronomers, it's always been a source of frustration that the nearest white-dwarf star is buried in the glow of the brightest star in the nighttime sky. This burned-out stellar remnant is a faint companion of the brilliant blue-white Dog Star, Sirius, located in the winter constellation Canis Major.

Related Articles


Now, an international team of astronomers has used the keen eye of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to isolate the light from the white dwarf, called Sirius B. The new results allow them to measure precisely the white dwarf's mass based on how its intense gravitational field alters the wavelengths of light emitted by the star.
"Studying Sirius B has challenged astronomers for more than 140 years," said Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester, U.K., who is the leader of the observing team. "Only with Hubble have we at last been able to obtain the observations we need, uncontaminated by the light from Sirius, in order to measure its change in wavelengths."

"Accurately determining the masses of white dwarfs is fundamentally important to understanding stellar evolution. Our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf. White dwarfs are also the source of Type Ia supernova explosions that are used to measure cosmological distances and the expansion rate of the universe. Measurements based on Type Ia supernovae are fundamental to understanding 'dark energy,' a dominant repulsive force stretching the universe apart. Also, the method used to determine the white dwarf's mass relies on one of the key predictions of Einstein's theory of General Relativity; that light loses energy when it attempts to escape the gravity of a compact star."
Sirius B has a diameter of 12,000 kilometres, less than the size of Earth, but is much denser. Its powerful gravitational field is 350,000 times greater than Earth's, meaning that a 68 kilogram person would weigh 25 million kilograms standing on its surface. Light from the surface of the hot white dwarf has to climb out of this gravitational field and is stretched to longer, redder wavelengths of light in the process. This effect, predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity in 1916, is called gravitational redshift, and is most easily seen in dense, massive, and hence compact objects whose intense gravitational fields warp space near their surfaces.

Based on the Hubble measurements of the redshift, made with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, the team found that Sirius B has a mass that is 98 percent that of our own Sun. Sirius itself has a mass of two times that of the Sun and a diameter of 2.4 million kilometres.

White dwarfs are the leftover remnants of stars similar to our Sun. They have exhausted their nuclear fuel sources and have collapsed down to a very small size. Despite being the brightest white dwarf known, Sirius B is about 10,000 times fainter than Sirius itself, making it difficult to study with telescopes on the Earth's surface because its light is swamped in the glare of its brighter companion. Astronomers have long relied on a fundamental theoretical relationship between the mass of a white dwarf and its diameter. The theory predicts that the more massive a white dwarf, the smaller its diameter. The precise measurement of Sirius B's gravitational redshift allows an important observational test of this key relationship.

The Hubble observations have also refined the measurement of Sirius B's surface temperature to be 25,000 degrees C. Sirius itself has a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees C.

At 8.6 light-years away, Sirius is one of the nearest known stars to Earth. Stargazers have watched Sirius since antiquity. Its diminutive companion, however, was not discovered until 1862, when it was first glimpsed by astronomers examining Sirius through one of the most powerful telescopes of that time.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ESA/Hubble Information Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

ESA/Hubble Information Centre. "Astronomers Use Hubble To 'Weigh' Dog Star's Companion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 December 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214083340.htm>.
ESA/Hubble Information Centre. (2005, December 14). Astronomers Use Hubble To 'Weigh' Dog Star's Companion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214083340.htm
ESA/Hubble Information Centre. "Astronomers Use Hubble To 'Weigh' Dog Star's Companion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214083340.htm (accessed March 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Why So Many People Think NASA's Asteroid Mission Is A Waste

Why So Many People Think NASA's Asteroid Mission Is A Waste

Newsy (Mar. 27, 2015) The Asteroid Retrieval Mission announced this week bears little resemblance to its grand beginnings. Even NASA scientists are asking, "Why bother?" Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robot Returns from International Space Station and Sets Two Guinness World Records

Robot Returns from International Space Station and Sets Two Guinness World Records

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 27, 2015) The companion robot "Kirobo" returns to earth from the International Space Station and sets two Guinness World Records. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Supermassive Blackhole Detector Ready for Business

Supermassive Blackhole Detector Ready for Business

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) Construction of the world&apos;s largest and most powerful observatory designed to detect and analyze gamma rays has been completed in Mexico. Gamma ray particles are considered the most energetic in the universe and scientists hope to use the observatory to learn more about the supernovas and black holes that produce them. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rocket Blasts Off Carrying U.S. Air Force GPS Satellite

Rocket Blasts Off Carrying U.S. Air Force GPS Satellite

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) A U.S. Air Force GPS IIF-9 satellite launches aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket into semi-synchronous orbit. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins