Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stars are promiscuous

30.04.2002


Blue stragglers (ringed) are irresistable to others.
© NASA/Hubble


Succession of relationships keeps heavenly bodies young

Astronomers have uncovered a scandalous degree of promiscuity in the cosmos. Clusters where stars gather more densely than usual are veritable hotbeds of partner-swapping. Some stars engage in half a dozen or so relationships during their lifetime1.

Star clusters range from loose groups of ten thousand or so stars to dense globular clusters of a million or more. They exist throughout galaxies like ours - from near the Galactic Centre to far outside the main galaxy body. In the centre of a globular cluster, star density can be more than 10 million times that around our own Sun.



Jarrod Hurley and Michael Shara, astronomers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, have carried out state-of-the-art computer simulations of star clusters on new, purpose-built hardware called GRAPE-6.

GRAPE stands for ’gravity pipe’, a system devised in the mid-1990s to calculate the behaviour of thousands of stars moving under the influence of one another’s gravitational fields. In principle, every star influences every other one, so these calculations are very demanding.

Previous generations of GRAPE made many simple and unrealistic assumptions about the interactions between stars in clusters. GRAPE-6 follows the lives of individual stars in a population of 50,000 or so in great detail.

Clusters are so dense that two stars often become bound into binary systems. These pirouette around their common centre of mass. Some stars can even get trapped in groups of three or more. Hurley and Shara were surprised to find that these partnerships can form and break many times in a star’s life; so a star could have several different partners in close succession.

This promiscuity takes its toll. When they get together, stars can undergo profound character changes. In particular, they can coalesce or pull material from their partner to form larger, more massive stars.

Ménages and mergers

The researchers followed one particular star that began life as an object much like the Sun, but bound in a binary system with another star of about half its mass. First, this pair had a short-lived ménage-à-trois with a smaller star. They then got together with a triple system in a group of five.

After some dramatic exits from the group, the initial star, now aged about 3.5 billion, merged with another, doubling its mass. It then hooked up with another star of similar mass; they eventually coalesced to form a star with about four times the Sun’s mass. This found itself in another foursome, before merging again to make a still more massive star, which blew off much of its outer material and ended up, 4.3 billion years after the initial star formed, as a white dwarf.

This lurid case history "is not at all rare", say Hurley and Shara. Cluster stars are constantly reinventing themselves.

A star such as the Sun gets gradually hotter, bluer and brighter as it ages. But astronomical observations have revealed that many stars in clusters show a different relationship between colour, brightness and age.

For example, globular clusters contain so-called blue straggler stars. These are much older than the Sun but look, judging from their colour and brightness, almost as young. Merging with or cannibalizing other stars may rejuvenate blue stragglers. Indeed, Hurley and Shara say that, once a star has become a blue straggler, it is irresistible to others: subsequent relationships "are almost inevitable".

References

  1. Hurley, J. R. & Shara, M. M. The promiscuous nature of stars in clusters. Astrophysical Journal, 570, 184 - 189, (2002).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing
21.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows
21.11.2017 | US Geological Survey

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: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Previous evidence of water on mars now identified as grainflows

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope completes final cryogenic testing

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New catalyst controls activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond

21.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>