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Astronomers see a star warp another's light


Posted on Wednesday, 7 June, 2017 | Comment icon 5 comments

Massive stars are able to manipulate the light we see from other stars. Image Credit: Casey Reed / NASA
Astronomers have observed a distant white dwarf star shifting the position of another star in the sky.
The discovery is particularly important because, in addition to being a world-first, it is also a phenomenon that Albert Einstein himself did not think would ever be possible to observe.

It works because particularly massive objects can warp the space around them which in turn acts like a magnifying glass, altering the path that light travels through the cosmos.

Fortunately though, despite Einstein's skepticism, telescopes have now come so far that it has actually become possible to observe this phenomenon directly.

The feat was achieved using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe a white dwarf star passing close enough to another background star that it seemed to move in a small loop in the sky.

"It looks like the white dwarf pushed it out of the way," said astronomer Terry Oswalt. "That's not what happened, of course. It just looks like that."

Astronomers are now hoping to spot many more such instances of this particular effect.

"This opens up a new field," said Kailash Sahu of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

"Nobody had tried this before, so it's a new technique. And it gives us a very unique and direct metric for measuring the mass of a star."

Source: The Verge | Comments (5)

Tags: Stars

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Opus Magnus on 7 June, 2017, 17:36
I like the part of about gravitational lensing. I've thought about these things a lot on my own.. without knowing. What I mean is I noticed years ago, looking through the branches of trees, I thought I saw them making a lense. Like a magnification. And other things, when arranged like that, it sounds like gravitational lensing, but with much smaller objects. I told my friends about this, because it felt like some great mystery, because we were playing disc golf in the woods at the time, but they just scoffed and brushed me off. It intrigues me with einstein, and is a grudge I still hold t... [More]
Comment icon #2 Posted by Merc14 on 7 June, 2017, 18:02
Amazing that you were thinking in that type of framework at such an early age! That said, the effect you noticed was not gravitational lensing as gravitational lensing requires a massive object to create any measurable change in perceived position. In this case it took an object .68 the size of the sun to change the perceived location of the background star 2 millarcseconds, something so small your eye couldn't possibly see it. Not sure what you were seeing but I'd guess it was many little branches, too small and distant for your eyes to see at night, blurring the star you were staring at ... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by keithisco on 7 June, 2017, 18:02
Of course... it is equally explained by refraction around the white dwarf. There is a very long thread devoted to this topic from some years ago.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 7 June, 2017, 21:51
Refraction can easily be discounted. If the light from the distant object had been refracted rather than bent by gravitational lensing it would show tell-tale emission lines from the white dwarfs atmosphere in it's spectra.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Noxasa on 8 June, 2017, 0:45
I had no idea Gravitational Microlensing has never been observed between two stars before, but only between galaxies. Learn something new everyday. :-)


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