In a recent study, scientists exactly measured the mass of a white dwarf, a star near the finish of its life cycle. How, given that stars are massive balls of burning gas light years away, can astronomers gather any information regarding a star’s mass?
“Just about the only way we have as astronomers for measuring masses of stars and planets and galaxies is by their gravitational influence on one another,” said Terry Oswalt, a professor of engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, writing for Science.
To illustrate, let’s say you’re an astronomer in the Alpha Centauri system, just over 4 million light years away, and you wanted to measure the mass of the faraway yellow dwarf star orbited by 8 planets. Since putting the star on the scale is impossible, you would instead observe the gravitational effect it has on the planets, and other space objects, in
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