Gravity-Bending Find Leads To Kepler Meeting Einstein


Artist's concept. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has witnessed the effects of a dead star bending the light of its companion star. The findings are among the first detections of this phenomenon — a result of Einstein’s general theory of relativity — in binary, or double, star systems.

The dead star, called a white dwarf, is the burnt-out core of what used to be a star like our sun. It is locked in an orbiting dance with its partner, a small “red dwarf” star. While the tiny white dwarf is physically smaller than the red dwarf, it is more massive.

“This white dwarf is about the size of Earth but has the mass of the sun,” said Phil Muirhead of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, lead author of the findings to be published April 20 in the Astrophysical Journal. “It’s so hefty that the red dwarf, though larger in physical size, is circling around the white dwarf.”

Muirhead and his colleagues regularly use public Kepler data to search for and confirm planets around smaller stars, the red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs. “We saw what appeared to be huge dips in the light from the star, and suspected it was from a giant planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, passing in front,” said Muirhead.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-124

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