Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

RAS PN06/32: The Magnetic Nature of a Mysterious Cosmic X-ray Emitter

07.06.2006


Our Sun has its explosive flares and spots and high speed wind, but it is a placid star compared to some. Stars that are much more massive live fast and die young, with blue-white, intensely hot surfaces that emit energy at a rate millions of times greater than that of the Sun. These stars are so bright that their light alone propels outflowing stellar winds - up to a billion times stronger than the solar wind - at speeds of up to 30,000 km/s, or one per cent of the speed of light.



An international team of astronomers [1] has discovered that one such star, the naked-eye tau Scorpii, unexpectedly hosts a complex network of magnetic field lines over its surface. Tau Scorpii has been known for some time to emit X-rays at an unusually high rate and to rotate slower than most otherwise similar stars. The newly discovered magnetic field, presumably a relic from the star’s formation stage, goes some way to explaining both characteristics, although the mechanism by which the magnetic field slowed down tau Scorpii’s rotation so strongly remains mysterious.

These results will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


The processes by which hot, massive stars expel their surface layers through their strong outflowing winds have a major impact on a star’s long-term fate. The cast-off material can also interact with other nearby stars, contribute matter and energy to the surrounding interstellar medium, and even induce bursts of new star formation. Hot massive stars are thus key actors in the life of a galaxy.

One such hot star is tau Scorpii, whose intrinsic brightness is so great that it is easily visible with the naked eye, despite its distance of over 400 light-years. Weighing as much as 15 Suns, tau Scorpii is 5 to 6 times bigger and hotter than our own star. Such massive stars are relatively few in number compared to stars like the Sun, and tau Scorpii is actually one of our closest massive neighbours.

Massive stars are thought to emit X-rays because of supersonic shocks occurring within their outflowing winds. However, tau Scorpii is an unusually strong X-ray source compared to stars which are otherwise similar.

The reason for this enhanced activity was a puzzle until the present discovery, which revealed that the star hosts a complex network of magnetic field lines over its surface (see image). According to the discovery team, this field is most probably a relic from the star’s formation stage.

The most interesting aspect, though, is how the field interacts with the wind, forcing it to flow along magnetic field lines, like beads along wires. Wind streams along ’open’ magnetic field lines (shown in blue) freely escape the star, something that wind streams in magnetic ’arcades’ (shown in white) cannot achieve. The result is that, within each magnetic arcade, wind flows from both footprints collide with each other at the loop summits, producing tremendously energetic shocks and turning the wind material into blobs of million-degree, X-ray emitting plasma tied to the magnetic loops.

This model provides a natural explanation of why tau Scorpii is such an intense X-ray emitter. However, it is not yet clear how the magnetic field succeeded in slowing down the rotation rate of the star to less than one-tenth that of otherwise similar, non-magnetic, massive stars.

Sun-like stars can be slowed down through their magnetic wind, just as ice-skaters are spun down when outstretching their arms. Tau Scorpii does not, however, lose material fast enough to have its rotation modified within its very short lifetime of a few million years.

The researchers discovered and examined the magnetic field of the star by looking at the tiny, very specific polarisation signals that magnetic fields induce in the light of magnetic stars. To do this, they used ESPaDOnS [2], by far the most powerful instrument in the world for carrying out this kind of research. This new instrument, currently attached to the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope [3] on Hawaii, was specially designed at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées in France for observing and studying magnetic fields in stars other than the Sun.

[1] The team includes J. F. Donati (Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees/LATT, CNRS/UPS, France), I. D. Howarth (University College London, UK), M. M. Jardine (University of StAndrews, UK), P. Petit (Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees/LATT, CNRS/UPS, France), C. Catala (Observatoire Paris-Meudon/LESIA, CNRS/UP7, France), J. D. Lanstreet (University of Western Ontario, Canada), J. C. Bouret (Observatoire de Marseille/LAM, CNRS/UdP, France), E. Alecian (Observatoire Paris-Meudon/LESIA, CNRS/UP7, France), J. R. Barnes (University of St Andrews, UK), T. Forveille (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation, USA), F. Paletou (Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees/LATT, CNRS/UPS, France) and N. Manset (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation, USA).

[2] ESPaDOnS was co-funded by France (CNRS/INSU, Ministère de la Recherche, LATT, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Laboratoire d’Etudes Spatiales et d’Instrumentation en Astrophysique, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon), Canada (NSERC), CFHT and ESA (ESTEC/RSSD). First light occurred at CFHT on 2 September 2004.

[3] CFHT operation is funded by Canada (NSERC), France (CNRS/INSU) and the University of Hawaii.

Prof. Ian Howarth | alfa
Further information:
http://www.star.ucl.ac.uk
http://www.ras.org.uk/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>