Newly Discovered Pinwheel Star System Is Unlike Anything Ever Seen Before

Posted: Nov 23 2018, 3:53pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 23 2018, 3:57pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Newly Discovered Pinwheel Star System is Unlike Anything Ever Seen Before
An image of Apep captured by the VISIR instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Credit: Peter Tuthill/University of Sydney/ESO

The new star system is the first known candidate in the Milky Way to produce a dangerous gamma-ray burst.

Researchers have discovered a new, massive star system lurking on the outskirts of our galaxy Milky Way. The newfound system is located about 8000 light years from Earth and consists of a pair of remarkably luminous stars. These stars are surrounded by a “pinwheel” of dust and form a shape that has never been seen before.

“This system is likely the first of its kind ever discovered in our own galaxy," said researcher Benjamin Pope from New York University. "It was not expected such a system would be found in our galaxy -- only in younger galaxies much further away. Given its brightness, it is surprising it was not discovered a lot sooner.”

The unusual star system, nicknamed "Apep" after the serpentine Egyptian god of chaos, is basically a Wolf-Rayet star system. Wolf-Rayet is a stage in the evolution of very massive stars in which they lose mass at a very high rate. This makes the newfound star system first known candidate in the Milky Way for dangerous gamma-ray burst, one of the most powerful explosions in the Universe.

In Apep star system, two hot, luminous stars orbit each other every hundred years or so. When the most massive stars in our universe near the end of their lives, they release huge amounts of material in the form of fast winds. Apep's stellar winds were measured to travel as fast as 12 million kilometers per hour, about 1 percent the speed of light.

"These massive stars are often found with a partner, in which the fast winds from the dying star can collide with its companion to produce a shock that emits at X-ray and radio frequencies and produces exotic dust patterns," said lead author Dr. Joe Callingham from Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. “Apep's dust pinwheel moves much slower than the wind in the system.”

Pinwheel shape is what makes the system so unusual and important. It was captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

"When we saw the spiral dust tail we immediately knew we were dealing with a rare and special kind of nebula called a pinwheel,” said Professor Peter Tuthill from University of Sydney.

"The curved tail is formed by the orbiting binary stars at the centre, which inject dust into the expanding wind creating a pattern like a rotating lawn sprinkler. Because the wind expands so much, it inflates the tiny coils of dust revealing the physics of the stars at the heart of the system."

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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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