Every 25.34 days, the object, designated LRLL 54361, unleashes a burst of light. Although a similar phenomenon has been observed in two other young stellar objects, this is the most powerful such beacon seen to date.
Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Muzerolle (STScI), E. Furlan (NOAO and Caltech), K. Flaherty (Univ. of Arizona/Steward Observ.), Z. Balog (Max Planck Inst. for Astronomy), and R. Gutermuth (Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst) Acknowledgment: R. Hurt (Caltech/Spitze
PROTOSTAR LRLL 54361 -- NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have teamed up to uncover a mysterious infant star that behaves like a police strobe light. [Left] -- This is a false-color, infrared-light Spitzer image of LRLL 54361 inside the star-forming region IC 348 located 950 light-years away. The Spitzer Space Telescope discovered an unusual variable object that has the typical signature of a protostar. The object emits a burst of light every 25.34 days. [Center] -- This Hubble Space Telescope monochromatic-color image resolves the detailed structure around the protostar, consisting of two cavities that are traced by light scattered off their edges above and below a dusty disk. The cavities were likely blown out of the surrounding natal envelope of dust and gas by an outflow launched near the central object. [Right] -- This is an artist's impression of the hypothesized central object that may be two young binary stars. Astronomers propose that the flashes are due to material in a circumstellar disk suddenly being dumped onto the growing stars and unleashing a blast of radiation each time the stars get close to each other in their orbit.
The heart of the fireworks is hidden behind a dense disk and envelope of dust. Astronomers propose the light flashes are caused by periodic interactions between two newly formed stars that are binary, or gravitationally bound to each other. LRLL 54361 offers insights into the early stages of star formation when lots of gas and dust is being rapidly accreted, or pulled together, to form a new binary star.
Astronomers theorize the flashes are caused by material suddenly being dumped onto the growing stars, known as protostars. A blast of radiation is unleashed each time the stars get close to each other in their orbits. This phenomenon, called pulsed accretion, has been seen in later stages of star birth, but never in such a young system or with such intensity and regularity.
"This protostar has such large brightness variations with a precise period that is very difficult to explain," said James Muzerolle of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. His paper recently was published in the science journal Nature.
Discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, LRLL 54361 is a variable object inside the star-forming region IC 348, located 950 light-years from Earth. Data from Spitzer revealed the presence of protostars. Based on statistical analysis, the two stars are estimated to be no more than a few hundred thousand years old.
The Spitzer infrared data, collected repeatedly during a period of seven years, showed unusual outbursts in the brightness of the suspected binary protostar. Surprisingly, the outbursts recurred every 25.34 days, which is a very rare phenomenon.
Astronomers used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to confirm the Spitzer observations and reveal the detailed stellar structure around LRLL 54361. Hubble observed two cavities above and below a dusty disk. The cavities are visible by tracing light scattered off their edges. They likely were blown out of the surrounding natal envelope of dust and gas by an outflow launched near the central stars. The disk and the envelope prevent the suspected binary star pair from being observed directly. By capturing multiple images over the course of one pulse event, the Hubble observations uncovered a spectacular movement of light away from the center of the system, an optical illusion known as a light echo.
Muzerolle and his team hypothesized the pair of stars in the center of the dust cloud move around each other in a very eccentric orbit. As the stars approach each other, dust and gas are dragged from the inner edge of a surrounding disk. The material ultimately crashes onto one or both stars, which triggers a flash of light that illuminates the circumstellar dust. The system is rare because close binaries account for only a few percent of our galaxy's stellar population. This is likely a brief, transitory phase in the birth of a star system. "Assuming the pulsed accretion hypothesis is correct, the disk is circumbinary, which means it encircles both stars. There may be small circumstellar disks around each star, though that is perhaps less likely given the strong pulse signature," said Muzerolle.
Muzerolle's team next plans to continue monitoring LRLL 54361 using other facilities including the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Telescope. The team hopes to eventually obtain more direct measurements of the binary star and its orbit.For related images and video, visit:
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Ray Villard | Newswise
Graphene microphone outperforms traditional nickel and offers ultrasonic reach
27.11.2015 | Institute of Physics
Tracking down the 'missing' carbon from the Martian atmosphere
25.11.2015 | California Institute of Technology
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
27.11.2015 | Press release
27.11.2015 | Life Sciences
27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences