PATT-linked grant for Warwick Astronomy & Astrophysics Group, April 2009 to March 2011

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Physics


At the end of their lives stars settle into one of three possible final compact states known as white dwarfs, neutron stars or black-holes. All three of these are incredibly dense by our standards, thousands of times denser than lead for instance. Many examples of such objects are known, and they are often far from being inactive as they can be so closely paired up with other stars than we can see the effects of gas transferring from one star to the compact object. In such a process the gas can be heated to many millions of degrees making these object efficient X-ray sources. Furthermore, both white dwarfs and neutron stars can show explosive effects as material accreting onto them sparks into uncontrollable fusion, generating vast amounts of energy within seconds or minutes. Our work centres on trying to understand such processes and how the various objects that we see relate to one another. The purpose of this grant is to support the travel needed to observe these objects on ground-based telescopes where we carry out observations of the high-speed processes that occur as material crashes onto these remarkable objects.


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Description This grant supported observations that led to several notable discoveries, namely: only the second example (at the time) of a pair of white dwarfs that eclipse each other, and a very nice object for precision timing as well as diagnosing the two stars; the proof that what was thought to be a black-hole was in fact a white dwarf in a similar object; the probable existence of two planets orbits a compact binary; the best masses and radii of a series of accreting white dwarfs.
Exploitation Route Papers that resulted from this grant have fed into many other papers within the field. The measurements of accreting white dwarf systems in particular led to the discovery of a high mass excess of such systems, which is a continuing puzzle today
Sectors Education