Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Watching a 'New Star' Make the Universe Dusty

25.07.2008
VLTI observes for the first time how dust forms around an erupting star

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, and its remarkable acuity, astronomers were able for the first time to witness the appearance of a shell of dusty gas around a star that had just erupted, and follow its evolution for more than 100 days. This provides the astronomers with a new way to estimate the distance of this object and obtain invaluable information on the operating mode of stellar vampires, dense stars that suck material from a companion.

Although novae were first thought to be new stars appearing in the sky, hence their Latin name, they are now understood as signaling the brightening of a small, dense star. Novae occur in double star systems comprising a white dwarf - the end product of a solar-like star - and, generally, a low-mass normal star - a red dwarf. The two stars are so close together that the red dwarf cannot hold itself together and loses mass to its companion. Occasionally, the shell of matter that has fallen onto the ingesting star becomes unstable, leading to a thermonuclear explosion which makes the system brighter.

Nova Scorpii 2007a (or V1280 Scorpii), was discovered by Japanese amateur astronomers on 4 February 2007 towards the constellation Scorpius ("the Scorpion"). For a few days, it became brighter and brighter, reaching its maximum on 17 February, to become one of the brightest novae of the last 35 years. At that time, it was easily visible with the unaided eye.

Eleven days after reaching its maximum, astronomers witnessed the formation of dust around the object. Dust was present for more than 200 days, as the nova only slowly emerged from the smoke between October and November 2007. During these 200 days, the erupting source was screened out efficiently, becoming more than 10,000 times dimmer in the visual.

An unprecedented high spatial resolution monitoring of the dust formation event was carried out with the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), extending over more than 5 months following the discovery. The astronomers first used the AMBER near-infrared instrument, then, as the nova continued to produce dust at a high rate, they moved to using the MIDI mid-infrared instrument, that is more sensitive to the radiation of the hot dust. Similarly, as the nova became fainter, the astronomers switched from the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes to their larger brethren, the 8.2-m Unit Telescopes. With the interferometry mode, the resolution obtained is equivalent to using a telescope with a size between 35 and 71 metres (the distance between the 2 telescopes used).

The first observations, secured 23 days after the discovery, showed that the source was very compact, less than 1 thousandth of an arcsecond (1 milli-arcsecond or mas), which is a size comparable to viewing one grain of sand from about 100 kilometres away. A few days later, after the detection of the major dust formation event, the source measured 13 mas.

"It is most likely that the latter size corresponds to the diameter of the dust shell in expansion, while the size previously measured was an upper limit of the erupting source," explains lead author Olivier Chesneau. Over the following months the dusty shell expanded regularly, at a rate close to 2 million km/h.

"This is the first time that the dust shell of a nova is spatially resolved and its evolution traced starting from the onset of its formation up to the point that it becomes too diluted to be seen", says co-author Dipankar Banerjee, from India.

The measurement of the angular expansion rate, together with the knowledge of the expansion velocity, enables the astronomer to derive the distance of the object, in this case about 5500 light-years.

"This is a new and promising technique for providing distances of close novae. This was made possible because the state of the art facility of the VLTI, both in terms of infrastructure and management of the observations, allows one to schedule such observations," says co-author Markus Wittkowski from ESO.

Moreover, the quality of the data provided by the VLTI was such that it was possible to estimate the daily production of dust and infer the total mass ejected. "Overall, V1280 Sco probably ejected more than the equivalent of 33 times the mass of the Earth, a rather impressive feat if one considers that this mass was ejected from a star not larger in radius than the Earth," concludes Chesneau. Of this material, about a percent or less was in the form of dust.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eso.org
http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2008/pr-22-08.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney

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: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Satellite-based Laser Measurement Technology against Climate Change

17.01.2017 | Machine Engineering

Studying fundamental particles in materials

17.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>