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Artist's illustration of a white dwarf star and the Moon. Image: Giuseppe Parisi

A newfound white dwarf star 130 light-years away is the most massive and smallest ever discovered, according to a new study.

Why it matters: The star — thought to be the result of two white dwarfs smacking into one another and merging — can act as a laboratory for astronomers to learn more about how extreme objects in the universe evolve.

What they found: The new study in the journal Nature suggests the white dwarf — named ZTF J1901+1458 — is about the size of the Moon but has a bit more than the mass of the Sun packed into it.

  • It likely formed when two stars in a binary system burned through their fuel and became white dwarfs that eventually merged with one another.
  • Sometimes, those mergers can create supernova explosions if the two stars are massive enough, but in this case, the white dwarf appears to be teetering right on the edge of being massive enough to explode.
  • "We caught this very interesting object that wasn't quite massive enough to explode," Ilaria Caiazzo, an author of the new study, said in a statement. "We are truly probing how massive a white dwarf can be."

The intrigue: The scientists behind the study don't think the star is likely to explode now, but its fate is still unclear.

  • It's possible the white dwarf is massive enough to eventually collapse into a neutron star, according to the scientists.
  • Usually these types of dead stars form after supernova explosions, but if this white dwarf is a progenitor to a neutron star, there could be many more like it out there.
  • "It is so massive and dense that, in its core, electrons are being captured by protons in nuclei to form neutrons," Caiazzo added. "Because the pressure from electrons pushes against the force of gravity, keeping the star intact, the core collapses when a large enough number of electrons are removed."

The bottom line: One day, our Sun will burn through its fuel and eventually become a white dwarf. By learning more about these objects, scientists are ultimately also investigating the fate of our star and solar system.

Go deeper

Updated 49 seconds ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and planned to travel to another destination afterward when the gang abducted them in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne's spent longer under lockdowns than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.

Venezuela suspends talks with opposition after Maduro ally extradited to U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in June. Photo: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key ally of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. Saturday to face money laundering charges in Florida, Bloomberg first reported.

Why it matters: Venezuela's government called off negotiations with opposition officials that were scheduled for Sunday in Mexico in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for Maduro. Security forces placed six U.S. oil executives under house arrest later Saturday, per AP.