Astronomers Have Captured The Majestic Image Of A White Dwarf Feeding On Debris From A Red Giant In R Aquarii

Kristine Moore

The European Southern Observatory's SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research), which is used to hunt for planets, recently captured the majestic image 650 light-years away from Earth of a white dwarf feeding on debris from a special type of red giant star, which is known as a Mira variable.

As reported, while the vast majority of stars live in binary systems, they live out their long lives quietly orbiting the same center of gravity, which they share, yet the white dwarf and red giant that were recently spotted in the binary system of R Aquarii, which is in the constellation of Aquarius, are not sharing this kind of delicate dance at all.

Astronomers working at the ESO have been enchanted with the death dance between the white dwarf and the red giant and have been observing the pair for many years now, and over the course of the years have discovered what they call a "peculiar story."

Because the red giant in R Aquarii is a Mira variable, it is already quite close to being at the end of its long life and has been found to be dramatically brighter than the sun, especially when it pulses. And with each pulse the red giant makes, its many gases expand around it, which the white dwarf nearby dramatically steals.

Perhaps also, if this red giant was alone and could shed its layers naturally, it would also become a white dwarf over the course of many millions of years. However, the white dwarf close to it does not intend for this to happen, and continues to use its gravity to extract material from the Mira variable red giant.

Astronomers have also been able to observe that when the white dwarf gathers enough hydrogen from the red giant, it creates fiery thermonuclear nova explosions. With each explosion that occurs, even more material gets projected into interstellar space, causing an even greater spectacle to witness.

While SPHERE has certainly captured a stunning image of the white star in R Aquarii devouring this tragic red giant, the Hubble has also been keeping close track of the journey of this incredible duo of stars.