For the first time, astronomers are able to predict when major flares--enormous explosions that shoot hot gases into space--will erupt on stars outside our solar system, according to research to be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
The research is based on data from the longest-running continuous radio survey of flares produced by two types of binary systems, each containing a pair of stars under the influence of each others gravity. Stars in both binary systems, located about 95 light years from our solar system, are like a younger version of our Sun. "Studying the flares on these stars can help us understand more about how life evolved on Earth because they indicate the kind of environment that was bombarding our planet during an earlier age," says Mercedes Richards, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University and the leader of the survey team.
During their 5-year-long observations, the researchers used the Green Bank Interferometer in West Virginia to continuously monitor radio waves produced by flares on pairs of stars as they circle each other like partners in a dance, regularly eclipsing each other when viewed from Earth. They studied two systems of such stars, one known as "The Demon Star," or "Beta Persei," which is the brightest and closest eclipsing binary pair in the sky. It contains a hot, blue star along with a cool, orange-colored star that is like our Sun but a bit more active. The other system, known as "V711 Tauri" to indicate its location in the constellation Taurus, also contains relatively cool stars like our Sun, one orange-colored and the other slightly hotter and yellow-colored.
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
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