Einstein Was Right: Scientists Spot White Dwarf Star Dragging Space-Time Around Like A Security Blanket

Friday, 31 January 2020 - 1:16PM
Astrophysics
Astronomy
Friday, 31 January 2020 - 1:16PM
Einstein Was Right: Scientists Spot White Dwarf Star Dragging Space-Time Around Like A Security Blanket
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Credit: ESO/L. Calçada – CC BY 4.0
A team of scientists has spotted evidence of a star "dragging" space-time around with it, like Linus with his blanket in old Peanuts comics. According to the report from Science Alert, this serves as further proof for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and directly strengthens one of the theory's key components.


Einstein's theory of general relativity includes the theory-within-a-theory (stay with us) called "frame-dragging." Frame dragging is the idea that any rotating body (like a star or a planet) exerts a subtle tug on the space-time surrounding it. Usually, that's too minute to register. We can barely detect Earth's. A white dwarf star, however, causes 100 million times as much of this frame-dragging as our planet.


So, an international team of scientists observed a pair of fast-moving stars: a white dwarf star, and a pulsar locked together as a binary system. A white dwarf star is what our Sun will become once it has burnt through most of its nuclear energy supply (5.4 billion years from now). A pulsar, on the other hand, is a completely different type of star. Pulsars are chaotically spinning neutron stars that emit a beam of radiation – they're considered a type of "lighthouse" in the Universe.


The two stars orbit each other once every five hours, and the pulsar itself spins two times per second. Compared to their relative sizes, that's unthinkably fast. The white dwarf star is "about the size of Earth but about 300,000 times heavier," while the pulsar is "the size of a city but 400,000 times heavier." It's incredible.


By observing this pair and comparing their movements to the speed of light, scientists noticed evidence for several facets of Einstein's theories – namely, that the plane of these stars' orbits is constantly changing.


The white dwarf drags space-time, which then causes the pulsar's orbital plane to "tilt" as well. It's the pulsar's tilt that scientists were observing, and data was collected several times per year through observations at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia.


A paper has been published in today's just-released issue of the peer-reviewed academic journal Science.





Cover image: ESO/L. CalçadaCC BY 4.0



 

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