Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers spy stellar bull´s eye

27.03.2003


Dramatic images reveal unique star explosion



In the early months of 2002, astronomers scanning the sky saw something highly unusual - and they still don’t know exactly what it is. A star suddenly flashed to 600,000 times its previous brightness. For a brief time, it was the brightest star in the galaxy.

As the light from the outburst spread into space, it reflected from surrounding rings of dust to reveal a spectacular, multicolored bull’s eye that is now 3 light years across and still growing.


"This is such an exciting discovery," said NSF-supported astronomer Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University, one of the researchers reporting the discovery in the March 27 Nature. "It was like a light bulb going off, and you can see the light echoing off surrounding material."

The new stellar outburst is described in the Nature article by an international, multi-agency team of researchers led by Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The team presents both a novel approach to calculating our distance from the star and dramatic NASA Hubble Space Telescope images of the "light echo" as it emanates outwards.

While the visual effect is stunning, the object is more than a pretty picture. Light echoes are rare, and this star’s outburst has many unusual characteristics.

"We don’t know what has caused this to happen," said Starrfield. "This object got bigger and brighter and cooler, but we don’t know why. Right now we know the effects and we’re trying to use the effects to determine the cause," he said.

Starrfield and colleague R. Mark Wagner of the University of Arizona used ground-based telescopes to study the light from the star, named V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon).

The group found that V838 Mon is actually a two-star, binary system, with one smaller and hotter (with a surface temperature of approximately 18,000 degrees Celsius) and the other star much larger and cooler (roughly 2,000 degrees Celsius).

The star characteristics help the researchers determine the objects’ distance from Earth, with critical data coming from both space-based images and ground-based observations. While Starrfield and his colleagues are still compiling ground-based data with NSF support, the researchers currently estimate the distance between Earth and V838 Mon to be at least 20,000 light years.

Many characteristics of the stellar outburst are unique. But, the smaller of the two stars looks similar to a well known type of star known as a B3 main sequence star, "and we know how to calculate our distance to that type of star," says Starrfield. "We know how bright such a star should be and can therefore get the distance if it is in fact similar," he added.

Said Wagner, "We are getting reasonably good agreement between the distance we infer from the light echo and the distance we estimate based on our ground-based observations of the hotter star."

Relative to its distance, the eruption of V838 Mon was incredibly bright. "In fact, the eruption was bright enough to be seen with binoculars," said Starrfield.

An additional part of the puzzle is that the outburst may be recurrent, and researchers believe the concentric envelopes of gas and dust surrounding V838 Mon may be remnants of previous outbursts, not transient debris from other star systems.

Although vast amounts of light and gas were shed by the outburst, the brightening star did not completely disperse its outer layers like exploding stars known as novae. Instead, the star expanded to an enormous size, cooling at its surface so that the outermost edges are unusually cool.

"If the larger of the two stars was at the center of our solar system, it would be big enough to engulf everything out to Jupiter," said Starrfield, "and it’s still growing."

The researchers believe that the light echo will be observable through the next decade, and they plan to use the time to make measurements with an array of space- and ground-based telescopes.

"This research will likely have significant impact on our understanding of the late phases of stellar evolution," said Phil Ianna, the NSF program officer who oversees support for the project. "Once again we see how the collaborative efforts of researchers combining space-based and ground-based data reveal details about objects not even imagined before."

The research team included investigators from the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore, Maryland; the Universities Space Research Association at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; the European Space Agency; Arizona State University; the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory at the University of Arizona at Tucson; the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes in Spain’s Canary Islands; and the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova in Asiago, Italy.

Josh Chamot | National Science Foundation
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov
http://www.nsf.gov/home/news.html
http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/stats.htm

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions
28.06.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

nachricht New photoacoustic technique detects gases at parts-per-quadrillion level
28.06.2017 | Brown University

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>