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Space Science

Kepler Watches White Dwarf Warp Spacetime 58

Posted by samzenpus
from the bend-and-stretch dept.
astroengine writes "The Kepler space telescope's prime objective is to hunt for small worlds orbiting distant stars, but that doesn't mean it's not going to detect some extreme relativistic phenomena along the way. While monitoring a red dwarf star — designated KOI-256 — astronomers detected a dip in starlight in the Kepler data. But it wasn't caused by an exoplanet. After some careful detective work, the researchers found that the red dwarf was actually in orbit around a binary partner — a white dwarf. As the white dwarf passed in front of the red dwarf, the starlight was enhanced by microlensing — a phenomenon caused by an intense gravitational field focusing light from behind. This had the counter-intuitive result of causing the starlight to dim when the white dwarf passed behind the red dwarf and then brighten as the white dwarf passed in front. This is one of the first discoveries of a binary partner through microlensing. 'Only Kepler could detect this tiny, tiny effect,' said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. 'But with this detection, we are witnessing Einstein's theory of general relativity at play in a far-flung star system.'"
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Kepler Watches White Dwarf Warp Spacetime

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can this be used to make inferences about the laws of physics, constants, etc. as they are at that distance/time ago?

    • Yes (Score:5, Funny)

      by maroberts (15852) on Friday April 05, 2013 @03:21AM (#43366545) Homepage Journal

      Ye cannae change the laws o' physics

    • Re:Laws of Physics (Score:5, Informative)

      by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Friday April 05, 2013 @05:45AM (#43366955)

      I think that Kepler is looking only at stars in our galaxy, a few hundred or thousand light years away/ago, so the time ago is not that great - within prehistory if not history, We can be pretty confident that laws of physics have not changed much since mammals evolved. This star is apparently 1,828 light years away,

      • Re:Laws of Physics (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mabhatter654 (561290) on Friday April 05, 2013 @08:04AM (#43367483)

        The micro lens effect is interesting because observing it proves Einstien's theory that mass and gravity "warp" space and time. My kid was watching history channel about this just last week... It was incredibly hard to find an event that could prove the theory true, AND take measurements with 1910-era equipment.... This was THE meal or break observation for Einstien's theory of General Relativity.
        And now we have telescopes that find these events "just lying around" the galaxy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is mostly the fine structure constant that is used to check if the laws of physics are the same at huge distances. Any change in this would change the relative positions of the absorption spectra of hydrogen, et al, and this fine structure constant contains planck's constant, electric charge and emissivity of free space (IIRC) that have no reason to change in such a way as to keep this fine structure constant the same if any or all of these values change.

      And absorption spectra, even redshifted, keep the

  • Anticipation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by damm0 (14229) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:18AM (#43366371) Homepage Journal

    Since the current Kepler has produced stunning science, I sure hope they put another one up when this one conks out thanks to losing the last of its gyroscopes. It's a shame that Kepler is facing a crash just as it is hitting stride.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      What we really need to do is put up TWO such telescopes at opposite poles of Neptunes orbit. That would give us a significant parallax for things that are sufficiently close. (What sufficiently would mean would depend on how carefully direction could be determined.) They'd probably need to synchronize their clocks based on some pulsar...one that has an occasional glitch. If it could be done right, this would give us the resolving power (though not the light collection capability) of a telescope the size

  • by Nyder (754090) on Friday April 05, 2013 @03:01AM (#43366493) Journal

    till i realized it was white dwarf, not Red Dwarf...

  • Kepler should have stepped in and told the dwarf to stop.
    OTOH "White Dwarf Warp Spacetime" sounds like something the Hulk would say, so perhaps a wise move to stand back and watch.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Maybe we can use imagination to move white dwarfs around to create dark matter bridges between the stars?
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday April 05, 2013 @06:04AM (#43367015)

    Not related to TFA per se, but from what I am understanding of exoplanet spotting is that it is predicated on a star and planet pair being observed being on an orbital plane of which Kepler can observe the edge. As otherwise how would the star light be seen to dim/brighten. Is this a fair statement? And if so does that mean that we are only capable (at the moment - I'm sure the future Lunar observatories will change things) of discovering exoplanets that lie on a plane whose edge points to Earth? And are the orbital planes of exoplanets parallel to our own solar system, or are they distributed all over the place?

    I want to know for both the science, plus pretty well every science fiction book I have read has the protagonists entering planetary systems along the orbital plane (except for the sneaky bad guys who attack from above or below).

    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday April 05, 2013 @06:15AM (#43367051)
      This method of detecting exoplanets is called transit detection, and does indeed require that the solar system be edge on in relation to our view: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet#Detection_methods [wikipedia.org]
      So does the doppler method, but I believe there can be a little more difference in the angle, as a doppler shift is slightly easier to measure than a bightness shift, but I am not an expert, I just think I read that somewhere.
      Also, IIRC, the astrometry method, which is not very useful requires the solar system to be at about a 90 degree angle in relation to ours.
    • by rts008 (812749)

      Short answer:
      1.yes, pretty much

      2. most systems lay on a plane shared with ours (view images of our galaxy from the 'top' and compare with a 'side view'...it is a rotating disc, AKA Spiral Galaxy)

      BTW, #2 is why this is so hard, looking out at our galaxy, it's crowded out there!

      For an 'On Earth Analogy', it would be like trying to spot a specific, individual tree in the most densely populated forest on earth, from Mars(or thereabouts).

      • by tgd (2822) on Friday April 05, 2013 @07:10AM (#43367263)

        BTW, #2 is why this is so hard, looking out at our galaxy, it's crowded out there!

        For an 'On Earth Analogy', it would be like trying to spot a specific, individual tree in the most densely populated forest on earth, from Mars(or thereabouts).

        IIRC, there's not particularly good evidence that the plane upon which planets form have anything other than a loose association to the plane of the galaxy. (And, they wouldn't need to be much off from it for a planet to almost never pass in front of the star. If you were looking at our sun along the plane of Pluto's orbit, the odds are almost zero that you're at the exact position in which the other planets are going to transit the star -- in almost any direction, the point the two planes cross will be to one side or the other of the star.

        But IANAA.

      • by athmanb (100367)
        By the way your analogy is very wrong. Because while there are indeed a lot of stars, they are also quite far away. An average star (diameter 10^6 kilometers) at 1000 light years (10^17 kilometers) distance is merely 10^-9 degrees across. To fill the entire night sky with stars you'd need 10^22 stars at that distance which is about how many of them exist in the entire universe. In fact it's statistically quite impossible for stars to actually cover each other.
  • I can't help but notice that as our technology becomes more and more advanced, the narrative gets closer to and more interchangeable with sci-fi..

    The starships prime objective is to hunt for small worlds orbiting distant stars, but that doesn't mean it's not going to detect some extreme relativistic phenomena along the way. While monitoring a red dwarf star — designated KOI-256 — the crew detected a dip in starlight in the Kepler data. But it wasn't caused by an exoplanet. After some careful det

  • FTFA :- "microlensing — a phenomenon caused by an intense gravitational field focusing light from behind. This had the counter-intuitive result of causing the starlight to dim when the white dwarf passed behind the red dwarf and then brighten as the white dwarf passed in front"

    Not sure why this is counter-intuitive. The light would only appear brighter if you were observing from the focus of the microlens, or near it; elswhere it would dim, even on the same axis if you were far enough beyond it.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Look at a light bulb. Now move a small object (say your hand) between yourself and the light-bulb. Notice ho the light bulb appears darker when the object is between you and it, and lighter otherwise. This is what most people's intuition would assume happens when a dark object moves in front of a bright one. Instead due to a phenomenon that people can't observe in daily life the opposite happened here. Thus the observation is "counter intuitive".

    • by Lithdren (605362)

      It's counter-intuitive if you're unaware of the theory of reealitivity.

  • After doppler shifts and transists, gravitational lensing is the 3rd most used method to find planets.
  • And, therefore, substantially cooled. I am surprised that it wasn't detected directly like all the other white dwarfs we know about. (Like Sirus B [wikipedia.org])

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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