by W. M. Keck Observatory
Astronomers have discovered the smallest and most massive white dwarf ever seen. The smoldering cinder, which formed when two less massive white dwarfs merged, is heavy, "packing a mass greater than that of our Sun into a body about the size of our Moon," says Ilaria Caiazzo, the Sherman Fairchild Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associate in Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech and lead author of the new study appearing in the July 1 issue of the journal Nature. "It may seem counterintuitive, but smaller white dwarfs happen to be more massive. This is due to the fact that white dwarfs lack the nuclear burning that keep up normal stars against their own self gravity, and their size is instead regulated by quantum mechanics."
The discovery was made by the Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, which operates at Caltech's Palomar Observatory; two Hawai'i telescopes—W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawai'i Island and University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy's Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui—helped characterize the dead star, along with the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar, the European Gaia space observatory, and NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.