Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble watches light echo from mysterious erupting star

27.03.2003


In January 2002, a moderately dim star in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn, suddenly became 600 000 times more luminous than our Sun. This made it temporarily the brightest star in our Milky Way. The light from this eruption created a unique phenomenon known as a ’light echo’ when it reflected off dust shells around the star.



The brightness of V838 Monocerotis, as astronomers call the star, has long since returned to normal levels. Observations by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show remarkable details in the shells of dust lit by the titanic stellar eruption. Astronomers may be able to probe the entire 3D structure of the dust shells surrounding this aging star in much the same way as a doctor does a CAT scan on a patient. The results will appear on 27 March 2003 in Nature.
Astronomers last saw light echoing off dust around stars in our Milky Way in 1936, long before Hubble was able to study this rare sight in the underworld of dusty, black interstellar space.

"As light from the outburst continues to reflect off the dust surrounding the star, we view continuously changing cross-sections of the dust envelope. Hubble’s sharp view is allowing us to do ’astronomical tomography’ of the dust with unprecedented resolution." says the lead observer, astronomer Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute in the United States.



Bond and his team used Hubble images to calculate that the star is about 20 000 light-years from Earth. It gave off enough energy in a brief flash to illuminate surrounding dust. It is similar to taking a flash picture of the walls of an undiscovered cave. The star presumably ejected the illuminated dust shells in previous outbursts. Some of the light from the latest outburst shines onto the dust and is reflected on to Earth. The path is indirect so the light arrives at Earth months later than light shining directly from the star itself.

V838 Monocerotis’s outburst was somewhat similar to that of a nova, a more common stellar outburst. A typical nova is a normal star that dumps hydrogen onto a compact, white dwarf companion star. The hydrogen builds up until it spontaneously explodes by nuclear fusion - like a titanic hydrogen bomb. The explosion exposes a searing stellar core with a temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees Celsius. Oddly enough however, V838 Monocerotis did not expel its outer layers. Instead, it grew enormously in size, with its surface temperature dropping to temperatures not much hotter than a light bulb. Growing so large without losing the outer layers is very unusual and completely unlike an ordinary nova explosion.

"We are having a hard time understanding this outburst, which has shown a behavior that is not predicted by present theories of nova outbursts," says Bond. "It may represent a rare combination of stellar properties that we have not seen before." The star is so unique it may represent a transitory stage in a star’s evolution that is rarely seen. The star is a little similar to highly unstable aging stars called eruptive variables, which suddenly and unpredictably increase in brightness.

The circular light-echo feature has now expanded to twice the angular size of Jupiter in the sky. Astronomers expect it to continue expanding as reflected light from farther out in the dust envelope finally arrives at Earth. Bond predicts that the echo will be observable until about 2010.



Lars Lindberg Christensen | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Abrupt motion sharpens x-ray pulses
28.07.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik

nachricht Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses
27.07.2017 | Universität Innsbruck

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: Abrupt motion sharpens x-ray pulses

Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.

A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...

Im Focus: Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses

Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.

Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New 3-D imaging reveals how human cell nucleus organizes DNA and chromatin of its genome

28.07.2017 | Health and Medicine

Heavy metals in water meet their match

28.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Oestrogen regulates pathological changes of bones via bone lining cells

28.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>