Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nearest bright 'hypervelocity star' found

07.05.2014

Speeding at 1 million mph, it probes black hole and dark matter

A University of Utah-led team discovered a "hypervelocity star" that is the closest, second-brightest and among the largest of 20 found so far. Speeding at more than 1 million mph, the star may provide clues about the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way and the halo of mysterious "dark matter" surrounding the galaxy, astronomers say.


This is an astrophysicist-artist's conception of a hypervelocity star speeding away from the visible part of a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way and into the invisible halo of mysterious "dark matter" that surrounds the galaxy's visible portions. University of Utah researcher Zheng Zheng and colleagues in the US and China discovered the closest bright hypervelocity star yet found.

Credit: Ben Bromley, University of Utah.

"The hypervelocity star tells us a lot about our galaxy – especially its center and the dark matter halo," says Zheng Zheng, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and lead author of the study published recently in Astrophysical Journal Letters by a team of U.S. and Chinese astronomers.

"We can't see the dark matter halo, but its gravity acts on the star," Zheng says. "We gain insight from the star's trajectory and velocity, which are affected by gravity from different parts of our galaxy."

In the past decade, astronomers have found about 20 of these odd stars. Hypervelocity stars appear to be remaining pairs of binary stars that once orbited each other and got too close to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center. Intense gravity from the black hole – which has the mass of 4 million stars like our sun – captures one star so it orbits the hole closely, and slingshots the other on a trajectory headed beyond the galaxy.

Zheng and his colleagues discovered the new hypervelocity star while conducting other research into stars with the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope, or LAMOST, located at the Xinglong Observing Station of the National Astronomical Observatories of China, about 110 miles northeast of Beijing. LAMOST boasts a 13.1-foot-wide aperture and houses 4,000 optical fibers, which capture "spectra" or light-wavelength readings from as many as 4,000 stars at once. A star's spectrum reveals information about its velocity, temperature, luminosity and size.

LAMOST's main purpose is to study the distribution of stars in the Milky Way, and thus the galaxy's structure. The new hypervelocity star – named LAMOST-HVS1 – stood out because its speed is almost three times the usual star's 500,000-mph pace through space: 1.4 million mph relative to our solar system. Its speed is about 1.1 million mph relative to the speed of the center of the Milky Way.

Despite being the closest hypervelocity star, it nonetheless is 249 quadrillion miles from Earth. (In U.S. usage, a quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000 miles or 10 to the 15th power, or 1 million billion).

"If you're looking at a herd of cows, and one starts going 60 mph, that's telling you something important," says Ben Bromley, a University of Utah physics and astronomy professor who was not involved with Zheng's study. "You may not know at first what that is. But for hypervelocity stars, one of their mysteries is where they come from – and the massive black hole in our galaxy is implicated."

The Down-Low on a Fast and Loose Star

A cluster of known hypervelocity stars, including the new one, is located above the disk of our Milky Way galaxy, and their distribution in the sky suggests they originated near the galaxy's center, Zheng says.

The diameter of the visible part of our spiral-shaped galaxy is at least 100,000 light years, or 588 quadrillion miles. Zheng says that when the halo of dark matter is added, the estimated diameter is roughly 1 million light years, or 5,880 quadrillion miles.

Scientists know dark matter halos surround galaxies because the way their gravity affects the motion of a galaxy's visible stars and gas clouds. Researchers say only about 5 percent of the universe is made of visible matter, 27 percent is invisible and yet-unidentified dark matter and 68 percent is even more mysterious dark energy, responsible for accelerating the expansion of the universe. By traveling through the dark matter halo, the new hypervelocity star's speed and trajectory can reveal something about the mysterious halo.

Our solar system is roughly 26,000 light years or 153 quadrillion miles from the center of the galaxy – more than halfway out from the center of the visible disk.

By comparison, the new hypervelocity star is about 62,000 light years or 364 quadrillion miles from the galactic center, beyond as well as above the galaxy's visible disk. It is about 42,400 light years from Earth, or about 249 quadrillion miles away.

As far as that is – the star has a magnitude of about 13, or 630 times fainter than stars that barely can be seen with the naked eye – it nevertheless "is the nearest, second-brightest, and one of the three most massive hypervelocity stars discovered so far," Zheng says.

It is nine times more massive than our sun, which makes it very similar to another hypervelocity star known as HE 0437-5439, discovered in 2005, and both are smaller than HD 271791, which was discovered in 2008 and is 11 times more massive than the sun. As seen from Earth, only HD 271791 is brighter than LAMOST-HVS1, Zheng says.

The newly discovered hypervelocity star also outshines our own sun: It is four times hotter and about 3,400 times brighter (if viewed from the same distance). But compared with our 4.6-billion-year-old sun, the newly discovered LAMOST–HVS1 is a youngster born only 32 million years ago, based on its speed and position, Zheng says.

Is there any chance that the supermassive black hole might hurl a hypervelocity star in Earth's direction one day? Not really, Zheng says. First, astrophysicists estimate only one hypervelocity star is launched every 100,000 years. Second, possible trajectories of stars near the supermassive black hole don't forebode any danger, should any of them become a hypervelocity star in the future.

###

Collaborating Institutions and Funding

Zheng conducted the study with researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz.; National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing and Nanjing; Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, Calif.; University of California Observatories-Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz; Georgia State University, Atlanta; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Ill.; and University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Development and Reform Commission of China.

University of Utah Communications
75 Fort Douglas Boulevard, Salt Lake City, UT 84113
801-581-6773 fax: 801-585-3350
http://www.unews.utah.edu

Lee J. Siegel | Eurek Alert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Mainz-based physicists find missing link between glass formation and crystallization
01.07.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Astronomers release spectacular survey of the distant universe
01.07.2016 | University of Nottingham

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: Mainz-based physicists find missing link between glass formation and crystallization

Densified regions with drastically reduced internal motion either act as crystal precursors or cluster and frustrate all further dynamics

Glasses are neither fluids nor crystals. They are amorphous solids and one of the big puzzles in condensed matter physics. For decades, the question of how...

Im Focus: Thousands on one chip: New Method to study Proteins

Since the completion of the human genome an important goal has been to elucidate the function of the now known proteins: a new molecular method enables the investigation of the function for thousands of proteins in parallel. Applying this new method, an international team of researchers with leading participation of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) was able to identify hundreds of previously unknown interactions among proteins.

The human genome and those of most common crops have been decoded for many years. Soon it will be possible to sequence your personal genome for less than 1000...

Im Focus: Optical lenses, hardly larger than a human hair

3D printing enables the smalles complex micro-objectives

3D printing revolutionized the manufacturing of complex shapes in the last few years. Using additive depositing of materials, where individual dots or lines...

Im Focus: Flexible OLED applications arrive

R2D2, a joint project to analyze and development high-TRL processes and technologies for manufacture of flexible organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been successfully completed.

In contrast to point light sources like LEDs made of inorganic semiconductor crystals, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are light-emitting surfaces. Their...

Im Focus: Unexpected flexibility found in odorant molecules

High resolution rotational spectroscopy reveals an unprecedented number of conformations of an odorant molecule – a new world record!

In a recent publication in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Quantum technologies to revolutionise 21st century - Nobel Laureates discuss at Lindau

30.06.2016 | Event News

International Conference ‘GEO BON’ Wants to Close Knowledge Gaps in Global Biodiversity

28.06.2016 | Event News

ERES 2016: The largest conference in the European real estate industry

09.06.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mainz-based physicists find missing link between glass formation and crystallization

01.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists observe first signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer

01.07.2016 | Earth Sciences

MRI technique induces strong, enduring visual association

01.07.2016 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>