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Kepler Watches White Dwarf Warp Spacetime

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the bend-and-stretch dept.

Space 58

astroengine writes "The Kepler space telescope's prime objective is to hunt for small worlds orbiting distant stars, but that doesn't mean it's not going to detect some extreme relativistic phenomena along the way. While monitoring a red dwarf star — designated KOI-256 — astronomers detected a dip in starlight in the Kepler data. But it wasn't caused by an exoplanet. After some careful detective work, the researchers found that the red dwarf was actually in orbit around a binary partner — a white dwarf. As the white dwarf passed in front of the red dwarf, the starlight was enhanced by microlensing — a phenomenon caused by an intense gravitational field focusing light from behind. This had the counter-intuitive result of causing the starlight to dim when the white dwarf passed behind the red dwarf and then brighten as the white dwarf passed in front. This is one of the first discoveries of a binary partner through microlensing. 'Only Kepler could detect this tiny, tiny effect,' said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. 'But with this detection, we are witnessing Einstein's theory of general relativity at play in a far-flung star system.'"

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Laws of Physics (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366349)

Can this be used to make inferences about the laws of physics, constants, etc. as they are at that distance/time ago?

Re:Laws of Physics (0)

davester666 (731373) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366441)

No.

Alternately:

Yes.

Fact!

Yes (5, Funny)

maroberts (15852) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366545)

Ye cannae change the laws o' physics

Re:Laws of Physics (5, Informative)

AlecC (512609) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366955)

I think that Kepler is looking only at stars in our galaxy, a few hundred or thousand light years away/ago, so the time ago is not that great - within prehistory if not history, We can be pretty confident that laws of physics have not changed much since mammals evolved. This star is apparently 1,828 light years away,

Re:Laws of Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367345)

But, we're not certain [huffingtonpost.com] we have it right in the first place. More data is always useful, whether or not the premise is flawed.

Re:Laws of Physics (3, Interesting)

mabhatter654 (561290) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367483)

The micro lens effect is interesting because observing it proves Einstien's theory that mass and gravity "warp" space and time. My kid was watching history channel about this just last week... It was incredibly hard to find an event that could prove the theory true, AND take measurements with 1910-era equipment.... This was THE meal or break observation for Einstien's theory of General Relativity.
And now we have telescopes that find these events "just lying around" the galaxy.

Re:Laws of Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369201)

it proves Einstien's theory that mass and gravity "warp" space-time.

FTFY
Space and Time are the same thing, that's the point.

Re:Laws of Physics (1)

HiThere (15173) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370545)

Sorry, but that's not quite right. Time has a negative sign in the calculation of distance. There's also a factor of c in there, but you could say that's just for unit conversion. However, because of that negative sign on a squared term, moving backwards in time is fundamentally different from moving forwards in time.

That said, different frames of reference *do* convert one into the other (which is Special Relativity) and accelerated frames of reference (General Relativity) act even stranger. Special Relativity only deals with cases that are essentially neutral with respect to viewpoint, but with General Relativity, you get things like the twin paradox, with different clock moving at different rates. (Actually this usually involved variable rates if you want to get a "paradox" out of it. And that means changing accelerations rather than constantly accelerated frames of reference.)

Re:Laws of Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43374057)

I've tried to search for the exact location of this star system and have come up empty. I'm beginning to think that this system is completely fictitious. Could you please post the source for the distance and possibly the location in right ascension and declination?

Yes they can. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367381)

It is mostly the fine structure constant that is used to check if the laws of physics are the same at huge distances. Any change in this would change the relative positions of the absorption spectra of hydrogen, et al, and this fine structure constant contains planck's constant, electric charge and emissivity of free space (IIRC) that have no reason to change in such a way as to keep this fine structure constant the same if any or all of these values change.

And absorption spectra, even redshifted, keep the same relative positions based on the value of that constant.

To the limit of possible resolution, the laws of physics are the same back to at least a billion or so years after the big bang.

Anticipation (4, Interesting)

damm0 (14229) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366371)

Since the current Kepler has produced stunning science, I sure hope they put another one up when this one conks out thanks to losing the last of its gyroscopes. It's a shame that Kepler is facing a crash just as it is hitting stride.

Re:Anticipation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366569)

I read gynoscopes

Re:Anticipation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43374643)

You wood.

Re:Anticipation (1)

HiThere (15173) | about a year and a half ago | (#43370631)

What we really need to do is put up TWO such telescopes at opposite poles of Neptunes orbit. That would give us a significant parallax for things that are sufficiently close. (What sufficiently would mean would depend on how carefully direction could be determined.) They'd probably need to synchronize their clocks based on some pulsar...one that has an occasional glitch. If it could be done right, this would give us the resolving power (though not the light collection capability) of a telescope the size of the solar system.

FTL travel = impossible (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366379)

It's already clear that the laws of physics don't permit FTL travel, so why are there so many ignoramuses out there who say it does?

Besides, it's been apparent for some time now that all that is left is good old fakepassword3. Oh dear, I seemed to have farted out some of your cum from my bare voothole...

Re:FTL travel = impossible (5, Informative)

smaddox (928261) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366459)

It's entirely true that faster than light travel is forbidden by general relativity. However, geometries with closed timelike curves, which can behave very much like time-machines, are not forbidden. It remains to be seen if such curves can be created and controlled. If they can, then a more complete model would be needed to include the effects of such phenomenon. As it stands, such curves could behave in several ways. In one formulation, self consistency would always be required. In another, such curves could be through another dimension, leading to self-inconsistent histories.

Most importantly, closed timelike curves are sufficiently rare that we have not observed natural occurrences. So, although such possibilites are interesting to consider, they are, ultimately, far beyond our current technologies.

Re:FTL travel = impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367157)

However, geometries with closed timelike curves, which can behave very much like time-machines, are not forbidden.

WAT? CTC is relativist jargon for "time machine". They are exactly time machines. They violate the Weak Energy Condition, which means that they are indeed forbidden. They may occur at the smallest scales or below black hole horizons, but not at normal scales under normal conditions. If they did, they would tend to explode violently anyway (mechanism: self-focusing gravity wave beams along the closed timelike path).

A closed universe is a CTC. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367431)

And the universe doesn't constitute a time machine by any meaning that would be given to the name.

I.e. we can travel forward in time at different rates in this universe, but we wouldn't call that time travel.

Re:FTL travel = impossible (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367995)

hey violate the Weak Energy Condition, which means that they are indeed forbidden.

By the weak energy condition, but not necessarily by the laws of physics. Wormholes wouldn't be "normal conditions". Given that the weak energy condition is violated on quantum scales, as you already noted, that's one avenue by which you might be able to exploit the math.

Re:FTL travel = impossible (2)

AlecC (512609) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366965)

But, for example, the Alcubierre drive would allow us to travel to the stars in reasonable subjective time without FTL travel. If it could be built (manipulating multiple Jupiter-sized masses is currently a bit of a problem).

Re:FTL travel = impossible (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367279)

The Alcubierre drive is a hypothetical faster than light drive based on general relativity.

If you want to go pretty much anywhere you want in a reasonable subjective time all you have to do is figure out how to accelerate at 1 g or so for a couple of decades. There are proposals for how to do that without needing Jupiter sized masses or negative energy. A ramjet comes to mind.

Re:FTL travel = impossible (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367595)

There is a long list of unresolved problems with the Alcubierre drive, most of which seem to be ignored by pop-sci outside of the main issue of requiring a large mass of a exotic material not seen before (that multiple Jupiters of mass, or even the revised versions using less, is not just regular matter... but something we don't know if it even exists). There are other problems, such as the bubble being uncontrollable by the ship, so it would have to be constructed more like a railroad, or that within the bubble, there would be a massive amount of radiation generated if you tried to go faster than light.

thought it was a tv show revue (3, Funny)

Nyder (754090) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366493)

till i realized it was white dwarf, not Red Dwarf...

Re:thought it was a tv show revue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366567)

till i realized it was white dwarf, not Red Dwarf...

It remains to be seen if such curves can be created and controlled. If they can, then a more complete model would be needed to include the effects of such phenomenon. As it stands, such curves could behave in several ways. In one formulation, self consistency would always be required. In another, such curves could be through another dimension, leading to self-inconsistent histories I agree!!!

Re:thought it was a tv show revue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366617)

For a moment, I though that the latest issue of White Dwarf [wikipedia.org] was particularly laden with mind-bogglingly priced miniatures...

Re:thought it was a tv show revue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367007)

The thing is it's cold out side, no kind of atmosphere and I am comatose more or less so let me fly far away from here....

That's the problem in today's society... (1)

lxs (131946) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366577)

Kepler should have stepped in and told the dwarf to stop.
OTOH "White Dwarf Warp Spacetime" sounds like something the Hulk would say, so perhaps a wise move to stand back and watch.

Godwin (-1, Flamebait)

codeButcher (223668) | about a year and a half ago | (#43366615)

Already 10 posts! And not one reference on how stupid creationists are! Nor any refs to Nazis either.

Will have to come back later.

Re:Godwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367059)

No but there are 800 posts on reddit about how codeButcher is a complete tool already...

Re:Godwin (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367103)

You sound like a typical creationist. Stop commenting, you're worse than Hitler.

Re:Godwin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367569)

Kepler is a German name. You know who else had German names? Nazis, that's who!

Re:Godwin (1)

nukenerd (172703) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367633)

Already 10 posts! And not one reference to US gun law! And only one reference to the Nazis.

Where is Intrepid Imaginaut? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43366815)

Maybe we can use imagination to move white dwarfs around to create dark matter bridges between the stars?

Re:Where is Intrepid Imaginaut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367013)

This is not funny.

Re:Where is Intrepid Imaginaut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368503)

You're right, it's not. That someone thinks it's possible really shows the pitiful state of our educational system. Carl would not be pleased, we've replaced demons with sci-fi.

A question for the Astronomers (2)

OzPeter (195038) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367015)

Not related to TFA per se, but from what I am understanding of exoplanet spotting is that it is predicated on a star and planet pair being observed being on an orbital plane of which Kepler can observe the edge. As otherwise how would the star light be seen to dim/brighten. Is this a fair statement? And if so does that mean that we are only capable (at the moment - I'm sure the future Lunar observatories will change things) of discovering exoplanets that lie on a plane whose edge points to Earth? And are the orbital planes of exoplanets parallel to our own solar system, or are they distributed all over the place?

I want to know for both the science, plus pretty well every science fiction book I have read has the protagonists entering planetary systems along the orbital plane (except for the sneaky bad guys who attack from above or below).

Re:A question for the Astronomers (3, Informative)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367051)

This method of detecting exoplanets is called transit detection, and does indeed require that the solar system be edge on in relation to our view: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet#Detection_methods [wikipedia.org]
So does the doppler method, but I believe there can be a little more difference in the angle, as a doppler shift is slightly easier to measure than a bightness shift, but I am not an expert, I just think I read that somewhere.
Also, IIRC, the astrometry method, which is not very useful requires the solar system to be at about a 90 degree angle in relation to ours.

Re:A question for the Astronomers (1)

rts008 (812749) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367081)

Short answer:
1.yes, pretty much

2. most systems lay on a plane shared with ours (view images of our galaxy from the 'top' and compare with a 'side view'...it is a rotating disc, AKA Spiral Galaxy)

BTW, #2 is why this is so hard, looking out at our galaxy, it's crowded out there!

For an 'On Earth Analogy', it would be like trying to spot a specific, individual tree in the most densely populated forest on earth, from Mars(or thereabouts).

Re:A question for the Astronomers (3, Interesting)

tgd (2822) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367263)

BTW, #2 is why this is so hard, looking out at our galaxy, it's crowded out there!

For an 'On Earth Analogy', it would be like trying to spot a specific, individual tree in the most densely populated forest on earth, from Mars(or thereabouts).

IIRC, there's not particularly good evidence that the plane upon which planets form have anything other than a loose association to the plane of the galaxy. (And, they wouldn't need to be much off from it for a planet to almost never pass in front of the star. If you were looking at our sun along the plane of Pluto's orbit, the odds are almost zero that you're at the exact position in which the other planets are going to transit the star -- in almost any direction, the point the two planes cross will be to one side or the other of the star.

But IANAA.

Re:A question for the Astronomers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367579)

He's an idiot. Our own plane of the elliptic is not even in line with the galactic plane

Re:A question for the Astronomers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367679)

Solar system sized structures will not have much influence from the galactic plane orientation and much more influence from local stuff (e.g. stars and the nebula they formed out of). This is pretty clear with our solar system where the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun is tilted from the galactic plane by over 60 degrees.

Re:A question for the Astronomers (2)

athmanb (100367) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367773)

By the way your analogy is very wrong. Because while there are indeed a lot of stars, they are also quite far away. An average star (diameter 10^6 kilometers) at 1000 light years (10^17 kilometers) distance is merely 10^-9 degrees across. To fill the entire night sky with stars you'd need 10^22 stars at that distance which is about how many of them exist in the entire universe. In fact it's statistically quite impossible for stars to actually cover each other.

Spacetime (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367019)

LOL@SpaceTime

Physicists and creativity is bad combination.

Sci-Fact (2)

BlacKSacrificE (1089327) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367097)

I can't help but notice that as our technology becomes more and more advanced, the narrative gets closer to and more interchangeable with sci-fi..

The starships prime objective is to hunt for small worlds orbiting distant stars, but that doesn't mean it's not going to detect some extreme relativistic phenomena along the way. While monitoring a red dwarf star — designated KOI-256 — the crew detected a dip in starlight in the Kepler data. But it wasn't caused by an exoplanet. After some careful detective work, flight astrophysicist Lt. Slarti B. Artfast reported that the red dwarf was actually in orbit around a binary partner — a white dwarf.

I swear, this is how I read 80% of the astronomical articles I come across.

A bit more than pedanticism (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43367419)

I would comment on the word "counterintuitive" as used in this posting. The original article said that IF you're looking for transients, then this result is counterintuitive. It was phrased in a correct way, that this was unusual phenomenon if your brain is thinking it should be a transient.

However, I read the reposter to Slashdot's cutup of the original article in this way: Hey, they were looking for transients and found a microlensing event that was counterintuitive (acted differently than the usual microlense, and common sense). This isn't the case. What happened is exactly what you observe for a microlensing event. When you just see the red dwarf, it's its usual brightness. When the white dwarf companion swings around and passes in front of it, in our line of sight, the red dwarf's light gets lensed towards us, spiking up in brightness, then fading away as the white dwarf passes by.

The way the post was set up, it should have read something like "...instead they found a microlensing event. Unlike a transit, this situation had the effect of..." what I said earlier. This is an odd event, but not unusual/counterintuitive to usual astronomical knowledge.

I'm not sure I'm getting exactly across what I'm trying to say.

Re:A bit more than pedanticism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368385)

No the summary said "the star got brighter when something dark was in the way. that's pretty counter intuitive"

And it is if you're a normal person who doesn't immediately think of gravitational lensing when imagining a light source occulted by a dark body.

Counter-Intuitive ? (1)

nukenerd (172703) | about a year and a half ago | (#43367693)

FTFA :- "microlensing — a phenomenon caused by an intense gravitational field focusing light from behind. This had the counter-intuitive result of causing the starlight to dim when the white dwarf passed behind the red dwarf and then brighten as the white dwarf passed in front"

Not sure why this is counter-intuitive. The light would only appear brighter if you were observing from the focus of the microlens, or near it; elswhere it would dim, even on the same axis if you were far enough beyond it. So it just depends on the strength of the gravitation and your distance away, and the two dwarves are likely to have different gravitation.

Re:Counter-Intuitive ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368417)

Look at a light bulb. Now move a small object (say your hand) between yourself and the light-bulb. Notice ho the light bulb appears darker when the object is between you and it, and lighter otherwise. This is what most people's intuition would assume happens when a dark object moves in front of a bright one. Instead due to a phenomenon that people can't observe in daily life the opposite happened here. Thus the observation is "counter intuitive".

Re:Counter-Intuitive ? (1)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368779)

It's counter-intuitive if you're unaware of the theory of reealitivity.

Dim like me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368247)

I'm feeling a bit dim and I guess I need some help from one of the big-brains out there, please.

I understand the lense effect causing the red dwarf to brighten as the white dwarf passes in front of it, but why would the red dwarf dim as the white dwarf passes behind it? I read the article and it doesn't clarify - at one point it says the red dwarf would dim as the white dwarf passed behind, at another it said that when the white dwarf went behind the red dwarf there would simply be 'no starlight enhancement', indicating that it wasn't dimming, just that it wasn't being enhanced.

Am I being dim, or is the article slightly misleading on this one point?

Re:Dim like me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368453)

I'm feeling a bit dim and I guess I need some help from one of the big-brains out there, please.

I understand the lense effect causing the red dwarf to brighten as the white dwarf passes in front of it, but why would the red dwarf dim as the white dwarf passes behind it? I read the article and it doesn't clarify - at one point it says the red dwarf would dim as the white dwarf passed behind, at another it said that when the white dwarf went behind the red dwarf there would simply be 'no starlight enhancement', indicating that it wasn't dimming, just that it wasn't being enhanced.

Am I being dim, or is the article slightly misleading on this one point?

"dim" and "bright" are relative terms, for how much light get's to the observer.

Both of those sentences mean the same thing.

Re:Dim like me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368697)

No, they are not the same.

As this is a three dimensional reality, and one of the two dwarfs is orbiting the other, there are more than two states from Kepler's point of view; the white dwarf is not always in front of or behind the red dwarf - in fact most of the time it will be neither. During this majority of the time the white dwarf will be having no effect on the light from the red dwarf and the light reaching Kepler will be (relatively) constant, i.e. the 'normal' light level from the red dwarf. When the white dwarf is in front of the red dwarf and creates the lense effect the red dwarf will appear brighter, relative to the normal light level. The article implies that when the white dwarf is behind the red dwarf the light from the red dwarf dims, which would be relative to the normal light level, not relative to the brightened light level caused by the lense. If it is simply a case of 'no starlight enhancement' when the white dwarf is in a relative position other than in front of the red dwarf, then it is incorrect to say that the red dwarf dims as the white dwarf passes behind it, as the light from the red dwarf would remain constant at all times when the white dwarf was not in front of it.

If someone who understands this 'nuance' could help clarify whether there is really a dimming effect as the white dwarf passes behind the red dwarf, I would appreciate your help.

Diversity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43368371)

Hmmmm....a white dwarf dancing with a red dwarf. That should infuriate the skinheads!

not so new: 3rd most common planet finder (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368609)

After doppler shifts and transists, gravitational lensing is the 3rd most used method to find planets.

Re:not so new: 3rd most common planet finder (1)

MuH4hA (1579647) | about a year and a half ago | (#43368943)

Ahm - that's just plain wrong and not funny or anything.. or am I just not getting it? o.O

In case, you're serious: for this effect to be noticeable, the object has to be
a liiiittle bit more massive, then a planet could ever be.

Must be a very old white dwarf (1)

erice (13380) | about a year and a half ago | (#43371541)

And, therefore, substantially cooled. I am surprised that it wasn't detected directly like all the other white dwarfs we know about. (Like Sirus B [wikipedia.org] )

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