Illustration for article titled Most Extreme White Dwarf System Ever Found!

In a universe of supermassive stars and galactic cannibalism, what makes astronomers call a star system "extreme"? Megaspeed. A group at University of Warwick found two white dwarf stars revolving around each other in a blinding 5.4 minutes.


You know what that means, don't you? For these two collapsed stars, a year is about five and a half minutes long. I have no idea what that does to the 5-hour workweek, but I think it might be bad.

In a release about their discovery, we learn more about this EXTREME situation:

The binary system consists of two white dwarfs. These are the burnt- out cinders of stars such as our Sun, and contain a highly condensed form of helium, carbon and oxygen. The two white dwarfs in HM Cancri are so close together that mass is flowing from one star to the other. HM Cancri was first noticed as an X-ray source in 1999 showing a 5.4 minutes periodicity but for a long time it has remained unclear whether this period also indicated the actual orbital period of the system. It was so short that astronomers were reluctant to accept the possibility without solid proof . . . Professor Tom Marsh from the University of Warwick said, "This is an intriguing system in a number of ways: it has an extremely short period; mass flows from one star and crashes down onto the equator of the other in a region comparable in size to the English Midlands where it liberates more than the Sun's entire power in X-rays. It could also be a strong emitter of gravitational waves which may one day be detected from this type of star system."


Marsh and his colleagues got their ultimate proof of the 5-minute year by using the giant Keck telescope on Hawaii. Their work will be published tomorrow in the Astrophysical Journal of Letters.

via Eurekalert

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