Every star is aging, but astronomers rarely get to watch it in real time. Now, they’ve taken a front row seat to an extraordinarily chaotic aging star – and find he’s heading towards a stunningly violent death.
The star is located in the nearby Triangulum galaxy (also known as Messier 33), in the middle of a transition into a class of extremely unstable stars called Wolf Wright stars. New observations show that the star has begun to emit a new signal that was not seen when the star was first spotted in 2018.
The new signal was detected in the star’s peaks and valleys SpectraAnd The wavelengths of the electromagnetic radiation it emits show that the star is ejecting either carbon or iron in its depths through nuclear fusion. The new signal also indicates that the star is massive, easily 25 times larger sun blockshe came close to her ultimate destiny of exploding into a stunning spectacle Supernova.
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“It’s really exciting that we were able to see an actual change in body spectrum in just four years,” Olivia Gaunt, a graduate student at Tufts University in Massachusetts who is involved in the new research, said Tuesday (June 6). ) while sharing the results at the 242nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which is being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and online. “We think this may be the first observation of a Wolf-Rayet star evolving in real time.”
Gaunt’s team calls the star BELLS 1, short for “Extensive Emission Lined Luminous Sources,” the kind of broadband emission that Wolf-Rayet stars radiate.
Bell 1 probably began as a hot, massive star that rapidly lost its hydrogen reservoir by combining lighter elements into heavier elements through Nuclear fusion. The rich spectra detected by Gaunt’s team come from BELLS 1’s fierce winds, which gust away at 2.2 million to 5.4 million mph (3.5 million to 8.7 million km/h) and dump roughly 10 solar masses of stellar matter every million years or so. The discarded stellar material is pumped back into the nearby universe, where it gives rise to future generations of stars and enriches them with recycled elements.
When the team first observed BELLS 1 in 2018 using Keck Observatory Perched atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, the star is marked by three emission lines. But during their follow-ups in 2022, Pelse 1 showed up in a new emission streak, indicating that it had taken a step forward in its short but lively evolution. Sparkling with the light of millions of suns, BELLS 1 is now nearing the end of its 10-million-year lifespan. Once a star completely runs out of fuel, it will explode into what astronomers call a type I supernova.
The new notes are exciting but not entirely surprising. “We know it’s around for short periods of time, so we expect to see rapid changes,” Gaunt told a news conference on Tuesday.
According to NASA, Wolf-Rayet stars like BELLS 1 Live fast and die hard, so watching one develop is a rare and valuable opportunity for astronomers. Only 200 such stars are known to exist milky way galaxy. Astronomers think 1,000 or 2,000 more may be out there but are obscured by thick blankets of dust.
Meanwhile, the BELLS 1 delivers a shining performance, quite literally.
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