NASA Discovers Pumpkin Stars Just In Time For Halloween

Posted: Oct 31 2016, 6:17am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 31 2016, 10:04am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Discovers Pumpkin Stars Just in Time for Halloween
Credit: NASA
 

Newfound giant orange stars can produce 100 times more x-ray emissions than sun.

Using observations from NASA’s Kepler and Swift missions, astronomers have discovered a group of extremely luminous stars that look similar to Halloween pumpkins. These stars are capable of spinning at a rapid pace. On average, they take just few days to complete a rotation, which is super-fast in cosmic terms.

As viewed from Earth, sun appears to be the brightest thing around but the newly discovered stars are so bright that they can produce 100 times more X-rays than sun.

“These 18 stars rotate in just a few days on average, while the sun takes nearly a month,” said lead researcher Steve Howell from NASA's Ames Research Center at California.

“The rapid rotation amplifies the same kind of activity we see on the sun, such as sun spots and solar flares and essentially sends it into overdrive.”

Dubbed KSw 71, the orange giant is the biggest star in the group. The star is 10 times larger than the sun, completes a rotation in just 5.5 days and emits X-rays 4,000 times greater than the peak level of the sun.

The rare group of stars was discovered through Kepler spacecraft when it was peering into a wide patch of sky. Launched in 2009, Kepler is originally designed to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. Of the nearly 5,000 total planet candidates to date, Kepler has discovered more than 2000 potentially habitable planets. 

“A side benefit of the Kepler mission is that its initial field of view is now one of the best-studied parts of the sky,” said Padi Boyd, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Our group was looking for variable x-ray sources with optical counterparts seen by Kepler, especially active galaxies, where a central black hole drives the emissions.”

Kepler helped researchers determine the rotation periods and sizes of the stars. The observations also provided the evidence of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the stars. All of these stars will ultimately convert into large red giant stars.

Researchers have used telescopes aboard Swift and a 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory in California for further research. Many previous models including the one presented by researcher Ronald Webbink suggest that there should be many more pumpkin stars in the universe than those that scientists have found.

“Webbink's model suggests we should find about 160 of these stars in the entire Kepler field,” said co-author Elena Mason. “What we have found is in line with theoretical expectations when we account for the small portion of the field we observed with Swift”

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