A university student has accurately modeled one of the most extreme and rare types of stars known to science in unprecedented detail, while stuck in blocking Covid-19.
University of Sydney student Yinuo Han and colleagues are using high-resolution imaging techniques to study the Apep star system from the very large telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
Khan compares the level of magnification needed for “To see chickpeas on a table 50 kilometers away.”
The Apep system – named after the Egyptian god of chaos – consists of not one but two Wolf-Rayet stars, extremely rare suns, of which very few have been observed.
Only one in a hundred million stars meets the criteria to be considered a Wolf-Riet: a large, extremely bright star on the verge of collapse, then leaving behind either a black hole or a neutron star.
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Both stars in the binary system are 10 to 15 times more massive than the sun and burn more than 100,000 times brighter and five times hotter at 25,000 degrees Celsius.
The pair revolves around every 125 years, at a distance approximately equivalent to the entire length of our solar system.
Increasingly rare is the fact that this Wolf-Rayet binary pair pumps huge amounts of stardust, forming a glowing tail that wraps around them as they spin faster and faster.
This newest member, who joins the ranks of the Star Special Forces, seems to be breaking all the rules and confusing researchers since it was first discovered two years ago.
“Dust seems to have a mind of its own, floating much slower than the extreme stellar winds that are supposed to move it.” Khan tells of a stellar system just 8,000 light-years from Earth with some really bizarre physics going on around it.
Khan and his colleagues created a model that accurately explains the complex and unusual spiral tail, shedding light on the unusual behavior of these extreme stellar structures.
The tail expands four times slower than stellar winds blowing in the vicinity, which initially made no sense, as they have not yet been observed to behave in this way anywhere else in the universe.
The solar winds emitted by the pair move at about 12 million km / h – about one percent of the speed of light – but the dust they emit is only a quarter of that speed.
Researchers now suspect that the speed at which stars rotate is the reason for this strangeness, as dust is sent in all directions, creating different types of currents than those observed in stellar winds, causing the drafts to slow down dramatically.
Khan and his team also point out that Apep may one day erupt a gamma ray when it finally explodes, something that has never been seen before in the Milky Way galaxy.
Apep is already spinning extremely fast, which means it has all the ingredients needed to create a long burst of gamma rays, one of the most energetic – and potentially deadly – events in the universe.
Such gamma-ray bursts are powerful enough to tear entire atmospheres from the planets and have in the past been associated with events of mass extinction here on Earth.
Fortunately, Apep does not pose a risk to Earth as it moves away from our planet. Thanks to the ongoing work of researchers like Khan and his team, humanity may one day witness one of the most powerful events the universe has to offer.
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