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 Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>