Twin Stars Are Closer to Earth Than Thought

By Bill Andrews | May 23, 2013 4:49 pm

An artist’s concept of Z Camelopardalis (Z Cam), a stellar system similar to SS Cygni. The white dwarf, the bright white object within the disk on the left, sucks matter from its more sedate companion star, on the right. The stolen material forms a rotating disk of gas and dust around the white dwarf. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Imagine if you could see a car’s headlights from more than 20 miles away. Those must be some headlights! It might even throw your whole understanding of headlights into question – how could there be any this bright? But then, you realize that the car wasn’t 20 miles away, but just 2; instantly, things make sense again.

This is how scientists solved an astronomical mystery involving not headlights, but a double star system named SS Cygni. It’s a kind of system known as a dwarf nova, which is made up of a white dwarf star and a red dwarf star orbiting each other. Over the years, astronomers had seen a variety of dwarf nova systems and thought they understood their mechanics: The more massive white dwarf pulls gas off its companion and into a flat disk surrounding the white dwarf. Occasionally (about every 49 days in SS Cygni’s case), the flow of material changes and causes instabilities in this disk, which causes a powerful outburst of energy.

But Hubble observations of SS Cygni in 1999 and 2004 put it at 519 light-years away. At that distance, researchers thought that its outbursts were far too bright to fit with their understanding of these systems, calling the theory into question. But a paper published today in Science shows that the system is really just 372 light-years or so away, so the brighter-seeming outburst (and dwarf nova theory as a whole) makes sense again.

The international collaboration of authors aren’t certain why their calculated distance was different from the previous one, but they do have a guess. In astronomy, one of the simplest ways to measure the distance of an object is to take advantage of parallax, the effect that results when you look at something from multiple points of view. Just as your thumb appears to jump around against the background if you hold it up and study it with each eye individually, a distant object will jump around against the background when seen from opposite points along Earth’s orbit around the sun. The reason for the discrepancy in distances might be what the various scientists used as the background over which SS Cygni “jumped.” The previous measurements used stars within our galaxy, but the new measurements used much more distant and uniform objects beyond the Milky Way. The authors also looked at the system’s radio waves, a more reliable and relatively error-free observation method compared to the previous optical measurements.

On a citizen science note, the authors of this study were aided by the observations of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, a group of amateur astronomers. The group claims to have witnessed each of SS Cygni’s outbursts since its discovery in 1896. More recently they have alerted the team each time the periodic changes in the star system’s output began, allowing the scientists to study them in greater detail.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: cosmology, universe
  • Tohm Owen

    Good science at work here!

    • Amy Henson

      lik℮ Esth℮r r℮spℴnd℮d I’m amaz℮d that sℴm℮ p℮ℴpl℮ can g℮t paid $7451 in fℴur w℮℮ks ℴn th℮ cℴmput℮r. did you lℴℴk as of this w℮b pag℮……. Fℴx85.ℂℴm

  • goodtoberight

    Looks like a stellar version of an obama parasite.

    • Mitch Scott

      I thought GOP trolls don’t believe in Science…go away….

      • SixSixSix

        A white dwarf sucking the gas out of a red dwarf – that would be the Tea Party and the Republican Party.

        • gendotte

          That was GREAT!

  • SixSixSix

    Note to self: don’t misplace several hundred light years. And all is good in the universe again.

    • Emkay

      note to 666, don’t believe all that crap about 85 percent of the universe is ‘dark matter……can’t see, feel, touch, smell, or hear it, but its there! ….sure….

      • facefault

        Can see its gravitational effects just fine, though. Look up the Bullet Cluster.

        • Emkay

          I can’t see gravity, so you must be special…

          • facefault

            You can’t see wind, but you can see the grass moving in it. Similarly, gravitational lensing and the Newton’s law of universal gravitation let us recognize that visible objects that are being affected by gravity of a given strength, and that lets us predict the location of unseen objects.

  • Peter Waine

    Have a look at the works of professor Eric P Dollard your going to find out the truth of stars and the Sun that is going to blow your mind away. They are not what you are being told and they are not light years away…go look him up Eric P Dollard.

    • facefault

      I looked him up. He’s a crank.

      • Peter Waine

        Now facefault can you offer your scientific reasons why he is a crank please or are you just name calling and cant offer up any science to refute him…Come on this is going to be good you a nobody against a Professor. Cant wait to hear what you have to say to refute him. Or are you just going to stick to your name calling because that is all you can offer up?

        • facefault

          Disqus deleted a long comment I made going through the evidence, so here’s a shorter one.

          He has no published papers (you can verify this for yourself on Google Scholar and Web of Science), which is surprising because you need published research to become a professor at any research institution. He also has no university affiliation. This means that the only person who has ever declared Eric P. Dollard a professor is Eric P. Dollard.

          His entire theory is based on luminiferous aether, which has been disproven for well over a century, and confirmed to be wrong many times since. (Look up the Michelson-Morley experiment). His explanation of conductivity is completely incorrect; it’s not about the “number of free electrons,” it’s about how easily electrons can move from one atom to another. (Electrons do not tend to stay free for very long; it’s usually more energetically favorable for them to be bound to an atom). He favorably cites a perpetual motion claim, when perpetual motion is impossible due to the Second Law of thermodynamics. He incorrectly claims that all “electro-magnetic energy” flows in loops; magnetism always loops, but electricity does not always do so. If it did, there could never be non-zero electric flux through a surface. And since electricity can come in monopoles (while magnets are always dipolar), it would make no sense for electricity to always go in loops. His stated definitions of capacitance and inductance appear to be circular, and are in any case not the definitions used by actual physicists. His argument that superconductors prove that conductive materials repel magnetism is completely nonsensical. The claim that conductive materials “repel magnetism” is itself nonsensical; try holding a piece of iron, which is a good conductor, up to a magnet. His claim that the conventional understanding of electricity would imply that a superconductor in a suddenly broken circuit would contain magnetic pressure forever is simply bizarre; he seems to have forgotten the entire concept of charge.

          And if you really believe him when he says electricity can’t be conducted through a metal, only transferred through the air alongside it, it’s easy enough to test. Take a metal plate. Line the edges with a resistive material, so you can’t claim that electricity flowed over the edges of the plate. Attach the terminals of a battery of one surface of the plate, and touch a point on the opposite side between the terminals.

          • Peter Waine

            Now that’s better than just calling him a crank. Even if it is copy and paste…lol

          • facefault

            It’s not copy and paste. I went through his “The fallacy of conductors” article and wrote down everything that was obviously wrong.

            My physics education consists of high school and two college courses, but even as someone who’s much better at biology than at physics I can confidently say he’s speaking gibberish.

          • Peter Waine

            And who is to say that everything you have been taught is correct sir. Have you not considered that you could be judging Dollard on faulty
            information yourself?

            As for the Ether that was proven to exist by the invention of an electric car that taped into the Ether by a Mr Nicola Tesla. Just because
            you don’t hear of these experiments of Tesla’s
            or because the powers that be had to make out it was all quackery because they feared a threat to their corporate profits should this new technology leak out does not invalidate Tesla or his inventions.

            Even General Thomas Bearden (and nuclear physicist) explains the working of the Ether and accepts that the Russians are in possession of new secret weapons that utilise this Ether and warns his comrades in arms quite often that America is ignoring this situation at its own peril. And you can’t dispute General Bearden’s qualifications.

            Back on subject all…Dollard say’s (be a self proclaimed professor or not) is that after 4 years of hard study of the Sun why working at
            RCA in America he found by his experiments (and by the knowledge of other scientists in the radio astronomy field) was that the Sun was not powered by nuclear fission. That nuclear fission or nuclear reaction was only evident in
            the flares emanating from the arc of the solar flares AND THAT THIS is where the confusion of the Sun as one big giant nuclear bomb burning reactor becomes a false reality when in fact no one knows (even him) exactly where the
            energy that powers the Sun comes from. He tends to think it is a transformer from a higher dimension into this one…a converter so to speak. And how many dimensions does science accept there to be now? 12 is it so far?

            He (Dollard) goes on to say that you can’t see the Sun or the Stars light in free space so you can’t calculate the true distance using
            the standard Algebraic method that is used in the Earths envelope. Once in free space the Algebraic calculations are no longer valid and any calculation would be in error. You need a new method of Calculation because of this none visible light existence in free space.

            Or maybe I am just bias because like Dollard I hold a full radio amateur licence (call sign M0JFK) and like him I study the solar flux
            activity of the Sun and have found (even by my own observations) that something
            is not quite correct about what we are told about the Sun. Especially when you see fellow amateurs video recordings of the Sun showing objects passing through it and coming out the other end. And I kid you not sir. Of course this video is posted on the websites but people just don’t believe it because of what they
            have been told all their lives and their reaction is to try and explain it away as fake. Some people (despite the evidence) will never handle the truth because they have lived in the lie for far to long.

          • facefault

            My responses keep getting deleted for some odd reason. Let’s try again.
            >Have you not considered that you could be judging Dollard on faulty information yourself?
            I have indeed considered that possibility. My specialty is human evolutionary biology. I would say the odds that Dollard’s claims are accurate are about as high as the odds that the world is really 6,000 years old, and that Satan planted the australopithecine bones in the ground to deceive us.
            OK, stop right there. Pretty much everyone does, in fact, learn about Tesla in high school – including me. And yes, I read that “The Oatmeal” piece too. Tesla was in some ways a genius, but he was also prone to blatant lies in self-promotion, especially late in his career when he got desperate to attract investment. Much of what he claimed was right, but quite a bit has since turned out to be wrong.
            >Thomas Bearden
            Surprise! Not a general (at least, I can’t find any record of a General Thomas Bearden, nor even any mention of such online), not a real physicist, and also a crank. See the RationalWiki article on “scalar waves.”
            >when in fact no one knows (even him) exactly where the energy that powers the Sun comes from.
            Again, this is like the “maybe Satan planted the dinosaur bones” argument. We can’t absolutely prove that it’s fusion, but fusion is a much more parsimonious explanation than novel interdimensional physics that we have zero evidence of. (And fusion reactions demonstrably *happen.* There’s no evidence whatsoever that energy can enter our universe from a “higher dimension,” nor that “higher dimensions” even exist).
            >And how many dimensions does science accept there to be now? 12 is it so far?
            The Standard Model of physics has four dimensions, three spatial and one temporal. Certain forms of string theory say that there are up to twelve because that makes their equations work out, and say that the ones we don’t interact with in everyday life are “coiled up” and inaccessible. It’s worth keeping in mind that there is very little reason to believe string theory is right. (See Peter Woit’s article “Forty Years of String Theory.”)
            >He (Dollard) goes on to say that you can’t see the Sun or the Stars light in free space
            And his evidence for this is…? While I’m not certain what he means when he says “free space,” my evidence against this is as follows: there is no luminiferous aether (as proven by Michelson-Morley, etc), and sunlight and starlight are plainly visible.
            >so you can’t calculate the true distance using the standard Algebraic method that is used in the Earths envelope.
            I’m not clear why he thinks that, if a luminiferous aether existed, this would repeal the laws of trigonometry.
            If there was an interstellar medium dense enough to slow the speed of light between stars to significantly below the speed of light in a vacuum, that would make the stars appear to be even *further away* than they already are. No medium that can accelerate light to faster than the speed of light in a vacuum exists, so there’s no way every single star could be significantly closer than we think.
            >Especially when you see fellow amateurs video recordings of the Sun showing objects passing through it and coming out the other end.
            I presume you’re familiar with the concept of glare. It’s very difficult to see objects passing in front of the sun, due to glare; this can easily create the illusion that they’re passing through the sun. (Not to mention that objects can pass *behind* the sun, not just in front of or through it). This is a more parsimonious explanation than objects simply passing through the sun without being destroyed.
            >Some people (despite the evidence) will never handle the truth because they have lived in the lie for far to long.
            Many people can’t stand the truth because they wish the world was stranger and more mysterious than it actually is. Or because they want to feel like they’re heroically fighting an unjust establishment. Or because they find appeals to authority (especially to Tesla) more convincing than empirical evidence.

          • Peter Waine

            Lt. Col. ( Sorry I got his Navy rank wrong)Thomas E. Bearden is a nuclear engineer, war games and weapons analyst, and military tactician. He has an MS in nuclear engineering from Georgia Tech and is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College and several US Army artillery and guided missile schools. He has over 30 years experience in air defence systems, technical intelligence, Soviet electromagnetic weaponry, artificial intelligence, computerized war games, and anti-radiation missile countermeasures. He is a senior scientist with a large aerospace company [Colsa Corp.] Col. Bearden personally developed and published the basis for a drastic revision of electromagnetic theory and engineering.

            Never tried very hard on Bearden did you? And you soon wrote him off as a crank also…lol

            Tesla a liar.. WHAT? Not nice to speak ill of the dead. Can’t really defend himself against that slur on his character can he now that he is six foot under. What blatant lies? And come on now who was his detractors? Come on sir you know better than anyone that the calibre and knowledge of this man Tesla threatened the whole establishment and the very way of life of the elites so he was never going to get any good press or even the truth spoken of him and they would of and DID go out of their way to destroy him via character assassination and financially.

            Dollard. Well I have found many independent references to his credentials so why you have not been able to I don’t know. Your place for references must be very poor and I would stop using them if I was you because they are making you decide people are cranks and then that blinkers your investigations. You have by your own admission said you don’t know what he means by not seeing light from the stars or the sun because of the envelope of the Earth. NOW had you taken the time to watch is ONLINE lectures you wouldn’t be confused anymore.

            The observations of the objects passing through the sun are done using filters and so it is not down to lens aberrations or flare. I thought that you would of obviously realised that all Solar observations from both Amateurs and Professionals alike never look at the sun without the use of filters and the objects clearly cause a disturbance on entry and exit so no they are not passing in front or behind it. You have not seen the video HAVE YOU? See it is wrong to pass comments on things you have not seen or taken the time to study in depth.

            I could write Darwin off as a crank. He never got it all correct on evolution. He can prove evolution on a few birds on isolated Islands but his evolution of man as one big stumbling block called THE MISSING LINK that I am sure you know about. So do we write him off? call him a crank? NO just because he cant prove the evolution of man you cant write the whole of his theory off unlike you do with Dollard and Bearden. How do we know Darwin was not a liar and did not distort his truth for fame?

            By the way I do agree with you that the planet is more than 6k old. I think it is billions of years old and that advanced civilisations have come and gone. Proof of this by the Smithsonian Institute have been dumped in the sea to hide the truth of the evolution of this planet and the civilisations that have been on it.

            There’s a hell of a lot of deception out there sir and anything that threatens the PTB (powers that be) be it history or technological advances from a genius that could free mankind and break the power of the elites control and wealth will get what coming to them. Lies, Murder, Character assassinations and outright lies. You name it they will stop at nothing. And Tesla was your perfect example of it.

          • Peter Waine

            By the way I like our debates and I hope I don’t come over a bit personal. Best chat I have had for ages. Beats the hell out of watching Stars in their Eyes or Americas got Talent. I assume you are American? Am I correct? Maybe not.

          • Emkay

            he might be Martian, so what….

          • Emkay

            wow, you should define those ‘jokers who wrote the books of the Bible…boy, were they not a incompatible bunch… do you suppose they were really inspired by God to write those books?… who knows…

          • Emkay

            geez, what a waste of time, any eighth grader knows electricity travels around a wire, not through it…. the crank is right about that….

          • facefault

            Unfortunately, things get a little more complicated after eighth grade. Look up electric flux and Gaussian surfaces.

          • Emkay

            no, electricity still travels around the wire not through it… AND, electricity will NOT pass through ‘pure’ water, either…


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