Are the physical laws the same in the hot, dense conditions in the atmosphere of a dying white dwarf star as they are here on Earth? That is what a new study led by researchers at the University of Leicester is now trying to elucidate.
These stars have masses around half the Sun compressed into a radius similar to that of Earth, leading to extreme gravity within the star’s atmosphere .
The researchers, led by Professor of Astrophysics Martin Barstow , use the light of white dwarf stars observed with the Hubble Space Telescope. Nicole Reindl , who leads the observations, explains:
These particular stars contain metals, such as iron and nickel, that float within the surface layers of their atmospheres. Light generated within the depths of the star passes through heavy metals, a ‘fingerprint’ in starlight that we can study.
Scrutinizing these tracks requires very exhaustive measurements of the wavelength or color of the light emerging from the atmospheres of these stars. According to Barstow :
This new work will test our understanding of how the Universe works, particularly outside the relatively narrow confines of our planet.