Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Colliding Stars Explain Enigmatic Seventeenth Century Explosion

24.03.2015

Discoveries made with the APEX telescope reveal that the "new" star that European astronomers saw appear in the sky in 1670 was not a nova, but a much rarer, violent breed of stellar collision. It was spectacular enough to be easily seen with the naked eye during its first outburst, but the traces it left were so faint that very careful analysis using modern submillimetre telescopes was needed to finally unravel the mystery more than 340 years later. A team led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn found emission from a fascinating variety of molecules that provides the tell-tale evidence.

Some of the age’s greatest astronomers, including Hevelius — the father of lunar cartography — and Cassini, carefully documented the appearance of a new star in the skies in 1670. Hevelius described it as “Nova sub capite Cygni” - a new star below the head of the Swan - but astronomers now know it by the name Nova Vul 1670. This object lies within the boundaries of the modern constellation of Vulpecula (The Fox), just across the border from Cygnus (The Swan) and is also referred to as CK Vulpeculae, its designation as a variable star. Historical accounts of novae are rare and of great interest to modern astronomers.


This picture was created from a combination of visible-light images (Gemini telescope, blue), a submillimetre map showing the dust (SMA, green) and a map of the molecular emission (APEX & SMA, red).

ESO/T. Kamiński


Nova Vul 1670. This chart of the position of a nova that appeared in the year 1670 was recorded by the famous astronomer Hevelius and was published in the journ al Philosophical Transactions.

Royal Society

The lead author of the new study, Tomasz Kamiński (at the time of the observations at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, Germany and now at ESO, Chile) explains: “For many years this object was thought to be a nova but the more it was studied the less it looked like an ordinary nova — or indeed any other kind of exploding star.”

When it first appeared, Nova Vul 1670 was easily visible with the naked eye and varied in brightness significantly over the course of two years. It then disappeared and reappeared twice before vanishing for good. Although well documented for its time, the intrepid astronomers of the day lacked the equipment needed to solve the riddle of the apparent nova’s peculiar performance.

During the twentieth century, astronomers came to understand that most novae could be explained as runaway explosive behaviour of close binary stars. But Nova Vul 1670 did not fit this model well at all and remained a mystery.

Even with ever-increasing telescopic power, for a long time the event was believed to have left no trace, and it was not until the 1980s that a team of astronomers detected a faint nebula surrounding the suspected location of what was left of the star. While these observations offered a tantalising link to the sighting of 1670, they failed to shed any new light on the true nature of the event witnessed over the skies of Europe over three hundred years ago.

Tomasz Kamiński continues the story: “We have now probed the area in the submillimetre and radio wavelengths. We have found that the surroundings of the remnant are bathed in a cool gas rich in molecules, with a very unusual chemical composition.” Among others, the team discovered the molecules CO, CN, HCN, HNC, NH3, SiO, the ionized molecules N2H+, HCO+ and even the organic H2CO (formaldehyde).

As well as APEX, the team also used the Submillimeter Array (SMA) and the Effelsberg radio telescope to discover the chemical composition and measure the ratios of different isotopes in the gas. Together, this created an extremely detailed account of the makeup of the area, which allowed an evaluation of where this material might have come from.

What the team discovered was that the mass of the cool material was too great to be the product of a nova explosion, and in addition the isotope ratios the team measured around Nova Vul 1670 were different to those expected to be produced by a nova. But if it wasn’t a nova, then what was it?

The answer is a rare and spectacular collision between two stars, more brilliant than a nova, but less so than a supernova, which produces a so-called red transient. These are a very rare events in which stars explode due to a merger with another star, spewing nuclear material into space, eventually leaving behind only a faint remnant embedded in a cool environment, rich in molecules and dust. This newly recognised class of eruptive stars fits the profile of Nova Vul 1670 almost exactly.

Co-author Karl Menten (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and Principal Investigator of APEX) concludes: “This kind of discovery is the most fun: something that is completely unexpected!”


The team is composed of Tomasz Kamiński (ESO, Santiago, Chile; Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, Germany [MPIfR]), Karl M. Menten (MPIfR), Romuald Tylenda (N. Copernicus Astronomical Center, Toruń, Poland), Marcin Hajduk (N. Copernicus Astronomical Center), Nimesh A. Patel (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) and Alexander Kraus (MPIfR).

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Onsala Space Observatory (OSO), and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to construct and operate a modified prototype antenna of ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre Array) as a single dish on the Chajnantor plateau at an altitude of 5,100 meters above sea level (Atacama Desert, Chile). The telescope was manufactured by VERTEX Antennentechnik in Duisburg, Germany. The operation of the telescope is entrusted to ESO.

The 100m Radio Telescope Effelsberg is one of the largest fully steerable radio telescopes on earth. It is operated by the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie in Bonn, Germany and located in a valley approximately 40 km southwest of Bonn. It was used here to observe a number of radio transitions of different molecules, namely SiO, OH, H2O (water) and NH3 (ammonia).

Original Paper:
“Nuclear ashes and outflow in the oldest known eruptive star Nova Vul 1670” by T. Kamiński, K.M. Menten, R. Tylenda, M. Hayduk, N.A. Patel, A. Kraus, to appear online in the journal Nature on 23 March 2015:
http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nature14257 (after the embargo expires)

Contact:

Dr. Tomasz Kamiński,
ESO, Santiago, Chile & Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn.
Fon: +56 02 2463-3277
E-mail: tkaminsk@eso.org

Prof. Dr. Karl M. Menten,
Head of „Millimeter and Submillimeter Astronomy“ research department
Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn.
Fon: +49-228-525-297
E-mail: kmenten@mpifr-bonn.mpg.de

Dr. Norbert Junkes,
Press and Public Outreach,
Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie.
Fon: +49(0)228-525-399
E-mail: njunkes@mpifr-bonn.mpg.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.mpifr-bonn.mpg.de/pressreleases/2015/4

Norbert Junkes | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect
24.05.2017 | Vienna University of Technology

nachricht Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect
24.05.2017 | University of Cologne

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>