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New discovery finds starving white dwarfs are binge eaters

Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Dec 17, 2017 11:19 pm

University of Canterbury astrophysicist Dr Simone Scaringi has made an unexpected and exciting new discovery related to the way white dwarfs grow in space.

The New Zealand-based researcher and astrophysics lecturer's co-authored paper, titled "Magnetically gated accretion in an accreting 'non-magnetic' white dwarf" has been published in the latest issue of Nature (14 December).

A white dwarf is what stars like the Sun become after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel. White dwarfs are dense objects roughly the same size as Earth but with as much mass as the Sun. They accrete, or grow, by sucking in mass from the outer layers of their companion stars.

Most white dwarfs have long been considered "non-magnetic". When white dwarfs grow at very low rates, they gain mass in distinct and sudden bursts where they 'binge eat' for a short period of time, Dr Scaringi says.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Dec 17, 2017 11:20 pm

Image
Credit: Helena Uthas

An artistic representation showing the system the researchers observed during its "binge eating" phase.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Dec 17, 2017 11:22 pm

Image
Credit: Helena Uthas

An artistic representation showing the system the researchers observed when it is "quiet."

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Sun Dec 17, 2017 11:23 pm



Armed with state-of-the-art supercomputer models, scientists have shown that colliding neutron stars can produce the energetic jet required for a gamma-ray burst. Earlier simulations demonstrated that mergers could make black holes. Others had shown that the high-speed particle jets needed to make a gamma-ray burst would continue if placed in the swirling wreckage of a recent merger.

Now, the simulations reveal the middle step of the process--how the merging stars' magnetic field organizes itself into outwardly directed components capable of forming a jet. The Damiana supercomputer at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics needed six weeks to reveal the details of a process that unfolds in just 35 thousandths of a second--less than the blink of an eye.

 

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