Space-Warping White Dwarfs Produce Gravitational Waves

Space-Warping White Dwarfs Produce Gravitational Waves

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Gravitational waves, much like the recently discovered Higgs boson, are notoriously difficult to observe. Scientists first detected these ripples in the fabric of space-time indirectly, using radio signals from a pulsar-neutron star binary system. The find, which required exquisitely accurate timing of the radio signals, garnered its discoverers a Nobel Prize. Now a team of astronomers has detected the same effect at optical wavelengths, in light from a pair of eclipsing white dwarf stars.

“This result marks one of the cleanest and strongest detections of the effect of gravitational waves,” said Warren Brown of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). The team discovered the white dwarf pair last year — white dwarfs are the remnant cores of stars like our Sun. The system contains two white dwarf stars so close together — one-third of the Earth-Moon distance — that they make a complete orbit in less than 13 minutes.

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