Lense–Thirring frame dragging induced by a fast-rotating white dwarf in a binary pulsar system

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Science  31 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6477, pp. 577-580
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax7007

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Pulsar timing detects frame dragging

Frame dragging is a predicted phenomenon in general relativity, whereby a rotating mass drags the surrounding spacetime around with it. Venkatraman Krishnan et al. analyzed timing observations of PSR J1141-6545, a young pulsar in a binary orbit with a white dwarf. Modeling the arrival times of the radio pulses showed a long-term drift in the orbital parameters. After considering possible contributions to this drift, they concluded that it is dominated by frame dragging (the Lense-Thirring effect) of the rapidly spinning white dwarf. These observations verify a prediction of general relativity and provide constraints on the evolutionary history of the binary system.

Science, this issue p. 577


Radio pulsars in short-period eccentric binary orbits can be used to study both gravitational dynamics and binary evolution. The binary system containing PSR J1141–6545 includes a massive white dwarf (WD) companion that formed before the gravitationally bound young radio pulsar. We observed a temporal evolution of the orbital inclination of this pulsar that we infer is caused by a combination of a Newtonian quadrupole moment and Lense–Thirring (LT) precession of the orbit resulting from rapid rotation of the WD. LT precession, an effect of relativistic frame dragging, is a prediction of general relativity. This detection is consistent with an evolutionary scenario in which the WD accreted matter from the pulsar progenitor, spinning up the WD to a period of <200 seconds.

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