Light-years away from Earth in the Tarantula Nebula, a double star is in the middle of some serious smooching, and scientists have caught them in the act. This cosmic love story is doomed, however, the hot and heavy couple likely headed for a massive, but spectacular, explosion.
This “celestial embrace,” as Christian Science Monitor described it, is incredibly rare, and the European Southern Observatory is credited with finding this unusual phenomenon. The find is incredible because such unions don’t last for long — only one Earth day — before the stars either combine or explode.
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Only a handful of double stars have ever been indentified, Space.com added.
The Tarantula Nebula neighborhood is a very active one in the universe and a hotbed for new stars. This binary system has been called VFTS 352, and they are incredibly tight. Their stellar cores are about 7.5 million miles apart, close enough that the gas that envelopes each can touch and form bridges between them. This gives the romantically-inclined the impression that they’re kissing.
This double star is extremely bright, and the hottest and most massive ever found. Their mass is 57 times more than the Sun’s, and its surface temperature runs at 72,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sun is about 10,000 degrees, as a comparison.
Systems like VFTS 352 create elements like oxygen and are also known to display some strange behavior. They can either be cooperative equals or feed off each other — a phenomenon often seen in romantic relationships.
In the latter scenario, if one is bigger than the other, the smaller of the two will turn into a vampire, “sucking” material from the larger. This isn’t likely to happen with the double star in the Tarantula Nebula because they are pretty evenly matched. Their mass is about the same, and they are able to share material; right now, they’re share 30 percent.
Unfortunately, these celestial lovers won’t last for long, and it can end in a couple ways, both of them called a “cataclysmic fate” and both quite spectacular. Right now, scientists don’t know which route the Tarantula Nebula’s double star will take.
In the first option, they conjoin to form one huge, rapidly spinning, very magnetic, and very massive star. This union will end in fireworks, said scientist Hugues Sana.
“If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst.”
In the second outcome — and the one that could lead to a breakthrough in astrophysics — the stars will end their lives in suicide in the form of a supernova explosion. They’ll both “remain compact” but avoid combining, leading them “down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions,” said astrophysicist Selma de Mink.
Via this supernova explosion, the doomed pair of stars would be transformed into a pair of closely orbiting black holes. And these black holes would become a source of gravitational waves.
This would be the most fascinating outcome because it would give scientists an opportunity to see something they’ve never seen before and could lead to an “observational breakthrough in the field of stellar astrophysics,” ESO said.
Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity holds that strong gravitational fields create waves in space-time. Space-time is thought of as fabric and large amounts of mass or energy warps this fabric; this is observed as gravity. Objects follow the most direct path in this warped space-time.
This phenomenon has never been seen firsthand. If the Tarantula Nebula double star turns into two black holes, scientists may finally be able to witness it.
[Photo via YouTube Screengrab]