Researchers found a star consumed by its smaller, darker neighbor

The sun may be a single star in our solar system, but nearly half of all other stars in the Milky Way are part of a binary system, where the two orbit each other. They can have very fast orbital periods: Scientists have discovered two white dwarfs that take just 5 minutes and 21 seconds to orbit each other. Other binary systems are noteworthy for a different reason: one star eats another.

About 3000 light years away is a binary system that belongs to a class called “catastrophic variables”. It’s a fantastic term, by the way, that I’ll use after my next failed cooking experiment. From a spatial perspective, when a star similar to our Sun orbits closely This is a disastrous variable. Therefore He noted that “Variable” refers to the combined brightness of the two stars which varies over time, at least in terms of how we view the system from the mainland. The gloss level can change dramatically, and this is where the “disaster” part comes into play.

The two stars in the 8 billion-year system orbit each other every 51 minutes. This is the shortest known orbital period for a catastrophic variable system. The distance between the stars has shrunk over millions of years and is now closer to each other than we are to the moon, researchers at MIT and elsewhere have determined. In an article published in temperament This week, researchers reported that white dwarfs are mining material from their sun-like counterparts.

“This is a pair of old stars, where one of them moves – when the stars die of old age they become white dwarfs – but then the rest start eating their mate,” said the MIT astrophysicist and lead author of the paper. Kevin Bridge. Reuters. “Before the second star completes its stellar life cycle and becomes a white dwarf as stars normally do – evolving into a type of star called a red giant – the remnants of the first star’s white dwarf interrupt the end of the star’s cycle. life of the partner and slowly begins to consume it “.

The researchers found that the largest star has a similar temperature to that of the Sun, but has reduced the diameter of our celestial neighbor to about 10 percent. It is now the size of Jupiter. White dwarfs are much smaller, about 1.5 times the diameter of the Earth. However, it has a dense core, with a mass of about 56 percent of the mass of our Sun.

The white dwarf chews hydrogen from the outer layers of a larger star, leaving the latter very rich in helium. Even the largest stars transform into teardrop shapes due to the gravitational pull of the white dwarf. This is one of the reasons for the change in the brightness level of the binary system.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology notes that the system can emit “very large and variable flashes of light” as a result of the hydrogen absorption process. He added that astronomers had long believed that these flashes were the result of an unknown catastrophe. Although we have a clearer understanding of today’s situation, it is more proof, as if necessary, that space is equally cold and creepy.

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