Astrophysicists observe the quantum effect long predicted by theory

(ORDO NEWS) — At the center of each white dwarf – the dense remnants of a star that has used up its “stellar fuel” by the end of its life cycle – lies a quantum mystery: as the white dwarf’s mass increases, its size decreases until eventually the white dwarf becomes so tiny and dense that it does not will be able to more resist collapse into a neutron star.

This mysterious relationship between the mass and size of a white dwarf, called the ratio of mass to radius, was first proposed in theory by Nobel laureate in physics Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in the 1930s. Now, in a new study, a team of astrophysicists at Johns Hopkins University, USA, has developed a method to observe this phenomenon using astronomical data collected from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite. Together, these datasets contain information on over 3,000 white dwarfs.

“The ratio of mass to radius demonstrates an amazing combination of quantum mechanics and gravity, but at first glance it seems contrary to common sense, which tells us that the greater the mass of an object, the larger its size should be,” said Nadia Zakamska, professor Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, which led the students who carried out this scientific work.

“This hypothesis has existed for a long time, but the dataset that we used in this work is characterized by an unprecedented volume and unprecedented measurement accuracy.”

The research is presented on the preprint server and accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.


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