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Heavy Metals Hint at an Unusually Dense White Dwarf

17 Sep 2021, 16:00 UTC
Heavy Metals Hint at an Unusually Dense White Dwarf
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Editor’s note: AAS Nova is on vacation until 22 September. Normal posting will resume at that time; in the meantime, we’ll be taking this opportunity to look at a few interesting AAS journal articles that have recently been in the news or drawn attention.
A team of astronomers led by Yuken Ohshiro (University of Tokyo) used X-ray observations from the space-based XMM-Newton observatory to detect the presence of heavy metals in supernova remnant 3C 397. They discovered a region that is rich in titanium and chromium in addition to the more commonly found manganese, iron, and nickel. The ratios of the abundances of these elements suggest that they formed in a white dwarf with a central density of 5 x 109 g cm-3, which is more than twice as dense as expected for a white dwarf at the Chandrasekhar mass limit — the maximum mass white dwarfs are thought to be able to attain.
This finding suggests that the white dwarfs that give rise to Type Ia supernovae are not identical, instead having a range of central densities. Because Type Ia supernovae are considered standard candles — cosmic beacons of equal luminosity that allow us to gauge distances to far-off ...

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