Tiny but Powerful: Hunting for Extreme White Dwarfs

Event Date: 
November 30, 2022
Ilaria Caiazzo

White dwarfs, the last step in the evolution of stars like our Sun, are tiny, blue compact objects, with a mass comparable to that of the Sun but packed into the size of a planet—or even smaller—a moon! Although very common (more than 95% of all stars are destined to become white dwarfs), these incredibly dense remnants still hide many secrets and mysteries. Dr. Caiazzo will discuss how a small old telescope at the Palomar Observatory, refurbished with a brand new instrument, ZTF, is allowing researchers to discover white dwarfs with extreme properties like huge magnetic fields and rapid rotation speeds—including the smallest white dwarf known. These discoveries are challenging our understanding of white dwarf evolution, as well as leading to new insights into the connection between white dwarfs and supernovae.

Speaker Bio: 
Ilaria Caiazzo is a Sherman Fairchild Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. She is interested in stars, in their lives and in their afterlives, and she has worked in various fields of astrophysics, from studying black holes and neutron stars in the X-rays, to finding interesting white dwarfs in the optical, to hunting for ancient brown dwarfs in the infrared. At Caltech, she uses data from the Zwicky Transient Facility to look for extreme white dwarfs and she is currently leading a collaboration to study brown dwarfs and ancient planetary systems with JWST. She has worked on theoretical models for the polarized X-ray emission of neutron stars in preparation for the launch of IXPE, the first X-ray polarimeter in space. IXPE was launched in December 2021, and she is now collaborating with her fellow IXPE team members to interpret the first detections. She is also interested in astronomical instrumentation; she is the project scientist for Colibrì, a proposed concept for a high spectral and timing resolution X-ray telescope, designed to unveil the mysteries of neutron stars and black holes. Outside of academia, Ilaria has worked as a writer and movie producer. The latest short movie she produced, The Recycling Man, has won many awards at several international festivals and it is available on the science fiction platform, Dust.