Two Ultra-close Stars Discovered In The Center Of A Planetary Nebula

Posted: Oct 24 2018, 4:08pm CDT | by , Updated: Oct 24 2018, 4:10pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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Two Ultra-close Stars Discovered in the Center of a Planetary Nebula
Credit: David Jones / Daniel López – IAC

The two stars complete an orbit around each other at just over three hours, which makes them one of the shortest orbital-period binary central stars known to date.

Astronomers have discovered a unique binary star in which two stars orbit each other at a very close distance. At just over three hours, the pair is a binary system with one of the shortest orbital periods known.

The binary star is located in the planetary nebula M3-1 which has attracted attention from astronomers and invited speculations on whether the nebula could have two stars in its center. The nebula itself resides in the constellation of Canis Major, at a distance of roughly 14,000 light years and displays powerful jets of plasma and filaments typically associated with binary star interactions.

Researchers have used telescopes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile to detect the binary star and monitored M3-1 over a period of several years. Long-term observations of this nebula revealed the presence of two stars orbiting extremely close to each other.

“We knew M3-1 had to host a binary star, so we set about acquiring the observations required to prove this and to relate the properties of the nebula with the evolution of the star or stars that formed it.” Co-author Brent Miszalski, a researcher at the Southern African Large Telescope, said.

The two stars are so close together that they cannot be directly observed from the ground, so researchers inferred the presence of the second star by looking at the variation of their observed combined brightness. Binary stars eclipse one another, meaning they dim and then brighten as one emerges from behind the other.

“When we began the observations, it was immediately clear that the system was a binary,” explained Henri Boffin, researcher at the European Southern Observatory in Germany. “We saw that the apparently single star at the center of the nebula was rapidly changing in brightness, and we knew that this must be due to the presence of a companion star.”

Researchers found that these stars complete an orbit around each other in just over three hours. Furthermore, the pair could also drive a nova explosion, an entirely unexpected event based on the current understanding of binary star evolution.

A nova, unlike a supernova, does not result in the death of a star. Instead, it collects material from its nearby companion until it reaches a tipping point, causing an explosion. Such explosions cause a temporary ten-thousand fold increase in brightness.

“After the various observing campaigns in Chile, we had enough data to begin to understand the properties of the two stars—their masses, temperatures and radii” said Paulina Sowicka from Nicolas Copernicus Astronomical Center in Poland. “It was a real surprise that the two stars were so close together and so large that they were almost touching one another. A nova explosion could take place in just a few thousand years from now.”

The widely-accepted theory says that binary stars should be well separated after the formation of a planetary nebula and it should take a long time before they begin to interact again and cause events like novae. Researchers believe that the two stars at the heart of M3-1 could be essential for advancing our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary nebulae.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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