NASA Captures Beautiful First Photo of White Dwarf Stars' Mass Exodus

Friday, 15 May 2015 - 2:45PM
Space
Astronomy
Space Imagery
Friday, 15 May 2015 - 2:45PM
NASA Captures Beautiful First Photo of White Dwarf Stars' Mass Exodus
NASA's Hubble telescope has captured any number of celestial phenomena, including clusters of white dwarf stars, which segregate depending on their mass. Astronomers have known that over millions of years, the lighter stars migrate from the center to the outskirts of the cluster, while the heavier stars in the less populated "suburban areas" fall to the "urban" core of the cluster. NASA has snapped images of the end result, after the stars have already segregated, but has never caught a cluster during the migration process. Until now, that is, as NASA released this amazing image of white dwarf stars beginning the segregation process yesterday:

NASA Captures Beautiful First Photo of White Dwarf Stars' Mass Exodus

[Credit: NASA]



NASA's official explanation of the photograph reads: 

White dwarfs are the burned-out relics of stars that rapidly lose mass, cool down and shut off their nuclear furnaces. As these glowing carcasses age and shed weight, their orbits begin to expand outward from the star cluster's packed downtown. This migration is caused by a gravitational tussle among stars inside the cluster. Globular star clusters sort out stars according to their mass, governed by a gravitational billiard ball game where lower mass stars rob momentum from more massive stars. The result is that heavier stars slow down and sink to the cluster's core, while lighter stars pick up speed and move across the cluster to the edge. This process is known as "mass segregation." Until these Hubble observations, astronomers had never definitively seen the dynamical conveyor belt in action.

NASA Captures Beautiful First Photo of White Dwarf Stars' Mass Exodus

[Credit: NASA]



"We've seen the final picture before: white dwarfs that have already sorted themselves out and are orbiting in a location outside the core that is appropriate for their mass," said the lead author of the study, Jeremy Heyl. "But in this study, which comprises about a quarter of all the white dwarfs in the cluster, we're actually catching the stars in the process of moving outward and segregating themselves according to mass. The entire process doesn't take very long, only a few hundreds of millions of years, out of the 10-billion-year age of the cluster, for the white dwarfs to reach their new home in the outer suburbs."

Via Blastr.
Science
NASA
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Astronomy
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