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 Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich

nachricht Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

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: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>