Hubble Uses Microlensing To Measure the Mass of a White Dwarf

This graphic shows how microlensing was used to measure the mass of a white dwarf star.

The dwarf, called LAWD 37, is a burned-out star in the centre of this Hubble Space Telescope image. Though its nuclear fusion furnace has shut down, trapped heat is sizzling on the surface at roughly 100 000 degrees Celsius, causing the stellar remnant to glow fiercely.

The inset box plots how the dwarf passed in front of a background star in 2019. The wavy blue line traces the dwarf’s apparent motion across the sky as seen from Earth. Though the dwarf is following a straight trajectory, the motion of Earth as it orbits the Sun imparts an apparent sinusoidal offset due to parallax. (The star is only 15 light-years away. Therefore, it is moving at a faster rate against the stellar background.)

As it passed by the fainter background star, the dwarf’s gravitational field warped space (as Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted a century ago). And this deflection was precisely measured by Hubble’s extraordinary resolution. The amount of deflection yields a mass for the white dwarf of 56 percent our Sun’s mass and provides insights into theories of the structure and composition of white dwarfs. This is the first time astronomers have directly measured the mass of a single, isolated star other than our Sun.


NASA, ESA, P. McGill (Univ. of California, Santa Cruz and Univ. of Cambridge), K. Sahu (STScI), J. Depasquale (STScI)

About the Image

Release date:2 February 2023, 16:00
Related releases:heic2301
Size:1795 x 1446 px

About the Object


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