Stellar News Feed Archive
|Biggest Explosions in the Universe Powered by Strongest Magnets||Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 13:16||
Observations from ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories in Chile have for the first time demonstrated a link between a very long-lasting burst of gamma rays and an unusually bright supernova explosion. The results show that the supernova was not driven by radioactive decay, as expected, but was instead powered by the decaying super-strong magnetic fields around an exotic object called a magnetar.
GRBs usually only last a few seconds, but in very rare cases the gamma rays continue for hours. One such ultra-long duration GRB was picked up by the Swift satellite on 9 December 2011 and named GRB 111209A. It was both one of the longest and brightest GRBs ever observed.
As the afterglow from this burst faded it was studied using both the GROND instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla and also with the X-shooter instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal. The clear signature of a supernova, later named SN 2011kl, was found. This is the first time that a supernova has been found to be associated with an ultra-long GRB.
|A five star, doubly-eclipsing star system||Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 08:33||
Astronomers at the Open University have discovered the first quintuple star system containing two eclipsing binary stars. Details of the five star system, the first of its kind to be found, will be presented by Marcus Lohr of the Open University in a talk on Wednesday 8 July at the National Astronomy Meeting at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales.
The light curve of the new quintuple system, designated as 1SWASP J093010.78+533859.5, initially revealed the presence of a contact eclipsing binary - a system in which the two stars are orbiting so close together that they share an outer atmosphere. Contact binaries are quite common, but this particular system is notable because its orbital period - the time the two stars take to complete one orbital cycle - is so short, just under six hours.
Then it was spotted that the light curve contained some additional unexpected eclipses, and the data were reanalysed to reveal a second eclipsing binary at the same location on the sky. The new binary is detached - its component stars are well-separated by a distance of about 3 million km, or about twice the size of the Sun - and it has a longer orbital period of one and a third days.
|Transition Disks||Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - 11:51||
A star is typically born with a disk of gas and dust encircling it, from which planets develop as dust grains in the disk collide, stick together and grow. These disks, warmed by the star to a range of temperatures above the cold, ambient interstellar material, can be detected at infrared or millimeter wavelengths, and their infrared color used to characterize their properties. Stars older than about five million years lack evidence for these disks, however, suggesting that by this age most of the disk material has either been converted into planets or smaller bodies, accreted onto the star, or dispersed from the system. Transition disks bridge this period in disk evolution: They have not yet been disbursed, but although they are present they emit only slightly in the infrared. Their emission shows characteristically cooler temperatures, and signs that the innermost (hottest) regions have already disappeared and left a gap (or cavity) in the ring.
CfA astronomer Sean Andrews and his colleagues have been studying transition disks in nearby star-forming regions located in constellations of Taurus and Ophiuchus. The astronomers note that the gaps in transition disks they see might have been caused by one or more of three processes: grain growth and planet formation that depleted the material, a giant planet in the vicinity that swept the region clean, or a stellar wind that blew away or evaporated the dust.
See more at: CfA News
Read the pre-print on astro-ph
|MONSTER BLACK HOLE WAKES UP AFTER 26 YEARS||Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 13:25||
On 15 June 2015, a long-time acquaintance of X-ray and gamma ray astronomers made its comeback to the cosmic stage: V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star orbiting one another. It is located in our Milky Way galaxy, almost 8000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.
In this type of binary system, material flows from the star towards the black hole and gathers in a disc, where it is heated up, shining brightly at optical, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths before spiralling into the black hole.
The V404 Cygni black hole system has not been this bright and active since 1989, when it was observed with the Japanese X-ray satellite Ginga and high-energy instruments on board the Mir space station.
Read the full story at the ESA Intregal site
|Intense radio emission from tiny binary star||Monday, June 22, 2015 - 08:33||
The small binary star known as AB Doradus B is located in the AB Doradus star system, consisting of two pairs of stars. Stars normally emit light that can be seen with the naked eye or through telescopes, but some also emit radio waves, similar to those from televisions, mobile phones or microwave ovens.
These emissions have made it possible to calculate the mass of the star, which is usually complex, but "when the star is accompanied by another, its orbital motion gives us an accurate way to determine it, as Kepler's laws establish," says the director of the Astronomical Observatory, José Carlos Guirado, co-author of the study. "The mass of these stars cannot be reproduced by the current models of stellar evolution, so we require a major overhaul of these theories," adds the scientist in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
|Voracious vortexes in cataclysmic variables. Multi-epoch tomographic study of HT Cassiopeia||Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 09:20||
We present multi-epoch, time-resolved optical spectroscopic observations of the dwarf nova HT Cas, obtained during 1986, 1992, 1995 and 2005 with the aim to study the properties of emission structures in the system. We determined that the accretion disc radius, measured from the double-peaked emission line profiles, is persistently large and lies within the range of 0.45-0.52a, where a is the binary separation. This is close to the tidal truncation radius r_max=0.52a. This result contradicts with previous radius measurements. An extensive set of Doppler maps has revealed a very complex emission structure of the accretion disc. Apart from a ring of disc emission, the tomograms display at least three areas of enhanced emission: the hot spot from the area of interaction between the gas stream and the disc, which is superposed on the elongated spiral structure, and the extended bright region on the leading side of the disc, opposite to the location of the hot spot. The position of the hot spot in all the emission lines is consistent with the trajectory of the gas stream. However, the peaks of emission are located in the range of distances 0.22-0.30a, which are much closer to the white dwarf than the disc edge. This suggests that the outer disc regions have a very low density, allowing the gas stream to flow almost freely before it starts to be seen as an emission source. We have found that the extended emission region in the leading side of the disc is always observed at the very edge of the large disc. Observations of other cataclysmic variables, which show a similar emission structure in their tomograms, confirm this conclusion. We propose that the leading side bright region is caused by irradiation of tidally thickened sectors of the outer disc by the white dwarf and/or hot inner disc regions.
Authors: V. V. Neustroev, S. V. Zharikov, N. V. Borisov
|A Celestial Butterfly Emerges from its Dusty Cocoon||Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 09:33||
Astronomers found the dust disc to begin about 900 million kilometres from the star — slightly farther than the distance from the Sun to Jupiter — and discovered that it flares outwards, creating a symmetrical, funnel-like shape surrounding the star. The team also observed a second source of light about 300 million kilometres — twice the distance from Earth to the Sun — from L2 Puppis. This very close companion star is likely to be another red giant of slightly lower mass, but less evolved.
The combination of a large amount of dust surrounding a slowly dying star, along with the presence of a companion star, mean that this is exactly the type of system expected to create a bipolar planetary nebula. These three elements seem to be necessary, but a considerable amount of good fortune is also still required if they are to lead to the subsequent emergence of a celestial butterfly from this dusty chrysalis.
|A new sdO+dM binary with extreme eclipses and reflection effect||Wednesday, June 3, 2015 - 08:48||
We report the discovery of a new totally-eclipsing binary (RA=06:40:29.11; Dec=+38:56:52.2; J=2000.0; Rmax=17.2 mag) with an sdO primary and a strongly irradiated red dwarf companion. It has an orbital period of Porb=0.187284394(11) d and an optical eclipse depth in excess of 5 magnitudes.
|Astronomers Observe Rare Stellar Eclipse||Tuesday, June 2, 2015 - 14:48||
A team of professional and amateur astronomers has succeeded in observing a distant companion as it eclipsed the bright variable star b Persei (not to be confused with Beta Persei) in a rare event.
The b Persei system was already known as a binary, with two stars that orbit each other every 1.5 days. But a suspected third companion popped up during a survey of radio-emitting stars. The Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI) began to trace out the companion’s orbit, and what began as routine observations turned into a rare eclipse prediction: the distant companion was set to cross in front of the other two stars in February 2013, and then again in January 2015.
|Searching for nova shells around cataclysmic variables||Sunday, May 31, 2015 - 10:33||
We present the results of a search for nova shells around 101 cataclysmic variables (CVs), using Halpha images taken with the 4.2-m William Herschel Telescope (WHT) and the 2.5-m Isaac Newton Telescope Photometric Halpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane (IPHAS). Both telescopes are located on La Palma. We concentrated our WHT search on nova-like variables, whilst our IPHAS search covered all CVs in the IPHAS footprint. We found one shell out of the 24 nova-like variables we examined. The newly discovered shell is around V1315 Aql and has a radius of approx.2.5 arcmin, indicative of a nova eruption approximately 120 years ago. This result is consistent with the idea that the high mass-transfer rate exhibited by nova-like variables is due to enhanced irradiation of the secondary by the hot white dwarf following a recent nova eruption. The implications of our observations for the lifetime of the nova-like variable phase are discussed. We also examined 4 asynchronous polars, but found no new shells around any of them, so we are unable to confirm that a recent nova eruption is the cause of the asynchronicity in the white dwarf spin. We find tentative evidence of a faint shell around the dwarf nova V1363 Cyg. In addition, we find evidence for a light echo around the nova V2275 Cyg, which erupted in 2001, indicative of an earlier nova eruption approx.300 years ago, making V2275 Cyg a possible recurrent nova.
Authors: D. I. Sahman, V. S. Dhillon, C. Knigge, T. R. Marsh
|Resolving the stellar activity of the Mira AB binary with ALMA||Friday, May 29, 2015 - 08:31||
We present the size, shape and flux densities at millimeter continuum wavelengths, based on ALMA science verification observations in Band 3 (~94.6 GHz) and Band 6 (~228.7 GHz), from the binary Mira A (o Ceti) and Mira B. The Mira AB system has been observed with ALMA at a spatial resolution of down to ~25 mas. The extended atmosphere of Mira A and the wind around Mira B sources are resolved and we derive the size of Mira A and of the ionized region around Mira B. The spectral indices within Band 3 (between 89-100 GHz) and between Band 3 and Band 6 are also derived. The spectral index of Mira A is found to change from 1.71+-0.05 within Band 3 to 1.54+-0.04 between Band 3 and 6. The spectral index of Mira B is 1.3+-0.2 in Band 3, in good agreement with measurements at longer wavelengths. However it rises to 1.72+-0.11 between the bands. For the first time the extended atmosphere of a star is resolved at these frequencies and for Mira A the diameter is ~3.8x3.2 AU in Band 3 (with brightness temperature Tb~5300 K) and ~4.0x3.6 AU in Band 6 (Tb~2500 K). Additionally, a bright hotspot of ~0.4 AU and with Tb~10000 K is found on the stellar disc of Mira A. The size of the ionized region around the accretion disk of Mira B is found to be ~2.4 AU. The emission around Mira B is consistent with that from a partially ionized wind of gravitationally bound material from Mira A close to the accretion disk of Mira B. The Mira A atmosphere does not fully match predictions, with brightness temperatures in Band 3 significantly higher than expected, potentially due to shock heating. The hotspot is likely due to magnetic activity and could be related to the previously observed X-ray flare of Mira A.
Authors: W.H.T. Vlemmings, S. Ramstedt, E. O'Gorman, E.M.L. Humphreys, M. Wittkowski, A. Baudry, M. Karovska
|The inner environment of Z Canis Majoris: High-contrast imaging polarimetry with NaCo||Tuesday, May 26, 2015 - 09:05||
Recently published in A&A, read the pre-print from astro-ph
|Supernova Hits Star, Results Shocking||Thursday, May 21, 2015 - 09:48||
The origin of type Ia supernovae, the standard candles used to reveal the presence of dark energy in the universe, is one of astronomy’s most beguiling mysteries. Astronomers know they occur when a white dwarf explodes in a binary system with another star, but the properties of that second star — and how it triggers the explosion — have remained elusive for decades.
Now, a team of astronomers from the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF), including those associated with UC Santa Barbara, have witnessed a supernova smashing into a nearby star, shocking it, and creating an ultraviolet glow that reveals the size of the companion. The discovery involved the rapid response and coordination of iPTF, NASA’s Swift satellite and the new capabilities of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT).
|What is the Shell Around R Coronae Borealis?||Monday, May 18, 2015 - 08:52||
The hydrogen-deficient, carbon-rich R Coronae Borealis (RCB) stars are known for being prolific producers of dust which causes their large iconic declines in brightness. Several RCB stars, including R CrB, itself, have large extended dust shells seen in the far-infrared. The origin of these shells is uncertain but they may give us clues to the evolution of the RCB stars. The shells could form in three possible ways. 1) they are fossil Planetary Nebula (PN) shells, which would exist if RCB stars are the result of a final, helium-shell flash, 2) they are material left over from a white-dwarf merger event which formed the RCB stars, or 3) they are material lost from the star during the RCB phase. Arecibo 21-cm observations establish an upper limit on the column density of H I in the R CrB shell implying a maximum shell mass of less than 0.3 solar masses. A low-mass fossil PN shell is still a possible source of the shell although it may not contain enough dust. The mass of gas lost during a white-dwarf merger event will not condense enough dust to produce the observed shell, assuming a reasonable gas-to-dust ratio. The third scenario where the shell around R CrB has been produced during the star's RCB phase seems most likely to produce the observed mass of dust and the observed size of the shell. But this means that R CrB has been in its RCB phase for approximately 10^4 yrs.
Authors: Edward J. Montiel, Geoffrey C. Clayton, Dominic C. Marcello, Felix J. Lockman
|Subaru Telescope Observers Superflare Stars with Large Starspots||Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 10:07||
A team of astronomers has used the High Dispersion Spectrograph on the Subaru Telescope to conduct spectroscopic observations of Sun-like "superflare" stars first observed and cataloged by the Kepler Space Telescope. The investigations focused on the detailed properties of these stars and confirmed that Sun-like stars with large starspots can experience superflares.
The team targeted a set of solar-type stars emitting very large flares that release total energies 10-10000 times greater than the biggest solar flares.
This work follows up on observations made in 2012 (Maehara et al. Nature on 2012 May 24), where the team reported finding several hundred superflares on solar-type stars by analyzing stellar observation data from Kepler Space Telescope. This discovery was very important since it enabled the astronomers to conduct statistical analysis of superflares for the first time. However, more detailed observations were needed to investigate detailed properties of superflare stars and whether such massive flares can occur on ordinary single stars similar to our Sun.
|Delta Cephei's hidden companion||Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 13:07||
Delta Cephei, prototype of the cepheids, which has given its name to all similar variable stars, was discovered 230 years ago by the English astronomer John Goodricke. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been interested in measuring cosmic distances using a relationship between these stars' periods of pulsation and their luminosities (intrinsic brightness), discovered by the American Henrietta Leavitt. Today, researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of UNIGE, Johns Hopkins University and the ESA show that Delta Cephei is, in fact, a double star, made up of a cepheid-type variable star and a companion that had thus far escaped detection, probably because of its low luminosity. Yet, pairs of stars, called binaries, complicate the calibration of the period-luminosity relationship, and can bias the measurement of distances. This is a surprising discovery, since Delta Cephei is one of the most studied stars, of which scientists thought they knew almost everything.
|ALMA Discovers Proto Super Star Cluster -- a Cosmic 'Dinosaur Egg' About to Hatch||Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 12:59||
Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered what may be the first known example of a globular cluster about to be born: an incredibly massive, extremely dense, yet star-free cloud of molecular gas.
“We may be witnessing one of the most ancient and extreme modes of star formation in the universe,” said Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and lead author on a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the very early universe. To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch.”
|PHL 1445: An eclipsing cataclysmic variable with a substellar donor near the period minimum||Friday, May 1, 2015 - 14:06||
We present high-speed, three-colour photometry of the eclipsing dwarf nova PHL 1445, which, with an orbital period of 76.3 min, lies just below the period minimum of ~82 min for cataclysmic variable stars. Averaging four eclipses reveals resolved eclipses of the white dwarf and bright spot. We determined the system parameters by fitting a parameterised eclipse model to the averaged lightcurve. We obtain a mass ratio of q = 0.087 +- 0.006 and inclination i = 85.2 +- 0.9 degrees. The primary and donor masses were found to be Mw = 0.73 +- 0.03 Msun and Md = 0.064 +- 0.005 Msun, respectively. Through multicolour photometry a temperature of the white dwarf of Tw = 13200 +- 700 K and a distance of 220 +- 50 pc were determined. The evolutionary state of PHL 1445 is uncertain. We are able to rule out a significantly evolved donor, but not one that is slightly evolved. Formation with a brown dwarf donor is plausible; though the brown dwarf would need to be no older than 600 Myrs at the start of mass transfer, requiring an extremely low mass ratio (q = 0.025) progenitor system. PHL 1445 joins SDSS 1433 as a sub-period minimum CV with a substellar donor. These existence of two such systems raises an alternative possibility; that current estimates for the intrinsic scatter and/or position of the period minimum may be in error.
Authors: M. J. McAllister, S. P. Littlefair, I. Baraffe et al
|Strange Supernova is "Missing Link" in Gamma-Ray Burst Connection||Monday, April 27, 2015 - 14:19||
"This is a striking result that provides a key insight about the mechanism underlying these explosions," said Sayan Chakraborti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "This object fills in a gap between GRBs and other supernovae of this type, showing us that a wide range of activity is possible in such blasts," he added.
|The Lives of the Longest Lived Stars||Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 13:22||
Heavy stars live like rock stars: they live fast, become big, and die young. Low mass stars, on the other hand, are more persistent, and live longer. The ages of the former stars are measured in millions to billions of years; the expected lifetimes of the latter are measured in trillions. Low mass stars are the turtle that beats the hare.
But why do we want to study the evolution of low mass stars, and their less than imminent demise? There are various good reasons. First, galaxies are composed of stars —and other things, but here we focus on the stars. Second, low-mass stars are by far the most numerous stars in the galaxy, about 70% of stars in the Milky Way are less than 0.3 solar masses (also denoted as 0.3M☉). Third, low-mass stars provide useful insights into stellar evolution: if you want to understand why heavier mass stars evolve in a certain way —e.g. develop into red giants— it is helpful to take a careful look at why the lowest mass stars do not.
|Discovering the mysterious companions of Cepheids||Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 09:34||
Though the physics behind Cepheid variability is well-understood, we still have significant difficulties to overcome in order to improve the zero-point of Leavitt’s law. Cepheids are supergiants. They are stars several times the mass of our Sun that have evolved off of the main sequence of the stellar color-magnitude diagram (in other words they’re in the stellar ‘afterlife’). Because bigger stars burn their fuel faster than smaller stars, Cepheids are also young stars. Thus they are often found in the dusty regions of galaxies so we have to deal with absorption, reddening, and dust scattering when we observe them. The period-luminosity relationship may also have a dependence on metallicity (the fraction of atoms in the star that are heavier than helium) that we still don’t fully understand.
Another common problem that we face when using Cepheids—and the focus of today’s paper!—is the presence of a binary companion. In fact, more than 50% of Galactic Cepheids are expected to have at least one companion. The number of Cepheids with binary companions is so high that we can’t deal with them by simply throwing out the ones that have companions. Separating the luminosity of the Cepheid from its companion is important if we want to use the period luminosity relationship.
|Accelerating Universe? Not So Fast||Monday, April 13, 2015 - 15:16||
A University of Arizona-led team of astronomers found that the type of supernovae commonly used to measure distances in the universe fall into distinct populations not recognized before. The findings have implications for our understanding of how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang.
"To be clear, this research does not suggest that there is no acceleration," Milne said, "just that there might be less of it."
"We're proposing that our data suggest there might be less dark energy than textbook knowledge, but we can't put a number on it," he added. "Until our paper, the two populations of supernovae were treated as the same population. To get that final answer, you need to do all that work again, separately for the red and for the blue population."
|Super-bright Supernovae are Single-Degenerate?||Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 09:42||
Type Ia supernovae (SNe) are often the archetype of an astronomical standardizable candle — something that has a known luminosity which we can use to measure its distance. Scientists famously used type Ia SNe to discover that our universe is accelerating and won the Nobel prize in 2011. However, one of astronomy’s dirtiest secrets is that we don’t know exactly how type Ia SNe materialize or why they might even be standard candles.
Supernovae are the explosive deaths of stars. They have a range of spectral types and energies that depend on the nature of the explosion and the progenitor stars. Type Ia SNe detonate in one of two ways: via the single degenerate or double degenerate model. In the single degenerate model, a white dwarf orbits a massive main-sequence star and eats aways at its partner’s outer layers. The white dwarf gains mass and eventually tips over the Chandrasekhar limit and collapses on itself and explodes. In the double-degenerate model, a binary system of two white dwarfs loses energy due to gravitational waves and the white dwarfs eventually collide.
|Suzaku Studies Supernova 'Crime Scene,' Shows a Single White Dwarf to Blame||Friday, April 3, 2015 - 09:06||
Until recently, astronomers thought the most likely way for a white dwarf to gain mass would be as a member of a close binary system with a normal sun-like star. By accumulating matter from its companion, the white dwarf can, over millions of years, nudge itself closer to the limit and explode. The companion stars are expected to survive, but astronomers find scant evidence for them, suggesting the need for an alternative model. In the merger scenario, the blast is triggered by a pair of lower-mass white dwarfs, whose orbits tighten over time until they eventually merge and explode.
"We can distinguish which of these scenarios is responsible for a given supernova remnant by tallying the nickel and manganese in the expanding cloud," said Goddard astrophysicist Brian Williams. "An explosion from a single white dwarf near its mass limit will produce significantly different amounts of these elements than a merger."
|Astronomers solve decades-long mystery of the "lonely old stars"||Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 08:41||
An overwhelming majority of the known members of a very important family of stars, known to astronomers as RR Lyrae variables, have for long appeared to live their lives all alone. These stars, being among the oldest known in the cosmos, contain precious information about the origin and evolution of the stellar systems that harbour them, such as the Milky Way itself. However, the lack of RR Lyrae stars in binary systems has made a direct assessment of some of their key properties difficult. Most often, theory had to be invoked to fill the gap.
Authors: G. Hajdu, M. Catelan1, J. Jurcsik, I. D´ek´any, A. J. Drake and J.-B. Marquette