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Stellar News Feed Archive

Stormy Stars? NASA's Spitzer Probes Weather on Brown Dwarfs Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 12:02

Swirling, stormy clouds may be ever-present on cool celestial orbs called brown dwarfs. New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that most brown dwarfs are roiling with one or more planet-size storms akin to Jupiter's "Great Red Spot."

"As the brown dwarfs spin on their axis, the alternation of what we think are cloud-free and cloudy regions produces a periodic brightness variation that we can observe," said Stanimir Metchev of the University of Western Ontario, Canada. "These are signs of patchiness in the cloud cover."

Read the full NASA JPL press release

Astronomy Image Explorer Puts Scientific Graphics at Your Fingertips Monday, January 6, 2014 - 15:04

IOP Publishing (IOP) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) are pleased to announce the launch of theAstronomy Image Explorer (AIE). The AIE provides researchers with quick and easy access to hundreds of thousands of images, illustrations, graphs, charts, and videos that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. The AIE has tools designed to aid researchers in their discovery and use of all types of graphic resources and is available free online to scientists and the public alike.

Read the full press release

Mass Accretion Processes in Young Stellar Objects: Role of Intense Flaring Activity Friday, January 3, 2014 - 12:14

According to the magnetospheric accretion scenario, young low-mass stars are surrounded by circumstellar disks which they interact with through accretion of mass. The accretion builds up the star to its final mass and is also believed to power the mass outflows, which may in turn have a significant role in removing the excess angular momentum from the star-disk system. Although the process of mass accretion is a critical aspect of star formation, some of its mechanisms are still to be fully understood. On the other hand, strong flaring activity is a common feature of young stellar objects (YSOs). In the Sun, such events give rise to perturbations of the interplanetary medium. Similar but more energetic phenomena occur in YSOs and may influence the circumstellar environment. In fact, a recent study has shown that an intense flaring activity close to the disk may strongly perturb the stability of circumstellar disks, thus inducing mass accretion episodes (Orlando et al. 2011). Here we review the main results obtained in the field and the future perspectives.

Authors:  S. Orlando, F. Reale, G. Peres, A. Mignone

Download the paper from astro-ph

Fomalhaut’s Little Sibling Has a Debris Disk Too Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 09:03

The presence of a debris disk around Fomalhaut C is surprising for two reasons. First, this is only the second known example of a multiple star system hosting multiple debris disks. Second, debris disks are very rare around low mass stars — although this may be simply because such stars have low luminosity, leaving their debris cold and faint. The Fomalhaut system is very nearby (only 7.7 parsecs from the sun), making this detection easier. Fomalhaut C may be the best example for studying the properties of debris disks around low mass stars, which could be common but typically undetectable.

Read the full story on astrobites

Astrophoto: Nova Centauri 2013 Turns Pink Saturday, December 28, 2013 - 12:45

A recent naked-eye visible nova that erupted the first week in December 2013 is still showing its stuff, and this new “hot off the press” image from Rolf Wahl Olsen in New Zealand reveals its unusual color. “I managed to grab a close-up of Nova Centauri 2013 with my new 12.5″ f/4 scope,” Rolf said via email to Universe Today. “Curiously, I have only so far seen wide field images of this nova, and none that actually show it’s very unusual strong pink colour.”

Read the full story on Universe Today

Hubble Sees a Stellar "Sneezing Fit" Thursday, December 26, 2013 - 13:42

Look at the bright star in the middle of this image. It appears as if it just sneezed. This sight will only last for a few thousand years — a blink of an eye in the young star's life.

If you could carry on watching for a few years you would realize it's not just one sneeze, but a sneezing fit. This young star is firing off rapid releases of super-hot, super-fast gas, like multiple sneezes, before it finally exhausts itself. These bursts of gas have shaped the turbulent surroundings, creating structures known as Herbig-Haro objects.

Read the full NASA press release

Photometry of the progenitor of Nova Del 2013 (V339 Del) and calibration of a deep BVRI photometric Monday, December 23, 2013 - 23:25

The Asiago plate archive has been searched for old plates covering the region of the sky containing Nova Del 2013 (V339 Del). The brightness of the progenitor was measured against a deep BVRI photometric sequence that we calibrated on purpose. The mean brightness of the progenitor on Asiago plates is <B>=17.27 and <V>=17.6, for a mean color (B-V) = -0.33. The recorded total amplitude of variation in B band is 0.9 mag. Color and variability are in agreement with a progenitor dominated by the emission from an accretion disc. The progenitor was marginally detected also by the APASS all sky survey on April 2012. We have stacked the CCD images from three individual visits and measured the progenitor at B=17.33+/-0.09 and V=17.06+/-0.10 mag.

Authors:  Ulisse Munari, Arne Henden

Get the pre-print from astro-ph

Powerful Ancient Explosions Explain New Class of Supernovae Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 10:05

The new study finds that the supernovae are likely powered by the creation of a magnetar, an extraordinarily magnetized neutron star spinning hundreds of times per second. Magnetars have the mass of the sun packed into a star the size of a city and have magnetic fields a hundred trillion times that of the Earth. While a handful of these superluminous supernovae have been seen since they were first announced in 2009, and the creation of a magnetar had been postulated as a possible energy source, the work of Howell and his colleagues is the first to match detailed observations to models of what such an explosion might look like.

Read the full press release 

The Magnetospheric Boundary in Cataclysmic Variables Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 22:56

The magnetic cataclysmic variables (MCVs) present a wealth of observational diagnostics for studying accretion flows interacting with a magnetosphere. Spin-period pulsations from the rotation of the white dwarf are seen in optical light, in the UV and X-ray bands, and in polarimetry, and modelling these can constrain the size and location of the accretion footprints on the white-dwarf surface. Tracing these back along field lines can tell us about the transition region between the stream or disk and the magnetosphere. Further, optical emission lines give us velocity information, while analysis of eclipses gives spatial information. 

Author: Coel Hellier

Read the full abstract

J075141 and J174140: Doubling Down With Rare White Dwarf Systems Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 16:59

Despite being known for almost 50 years, the question has remained: where do AM CVn systems come from? New X-ray and optical observations have begun to answer that with the discovery of the first known systems of double stars that astronomers think will evolve into AM CVn systems.

AM CVn systems are of interest to scientists because they are predicted to be sources of gravitational waves. This is important because even though such waves have yet to be detected, many scientists and engineers are working on instruments that should be able to detect them in the near future. This will open a significant new observational window to the universe.

The paper reporting these results is available online and is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters. The authors are Mukremin Kilic, from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK; J.J. Hermes from the University of Texas at Austin in TX; Alexandros Gianninas from the University of Oklahoma; Warren Brown from Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA; Craig Heinke from University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada; Marcel Agüeros from Columbia University in New York, NY; Paul Chote and Denis Sullivan from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; and Keaton Bell and Samuel Harrold from University of Texas at Austin.

Read the full press release from Chandra

RS Puppis puts on a spectacular light show Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 11:09

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has observed the variable star RS Puppis over a period of five weeks, showing the star growing brighter and dimmer as it pulsates. These pulsations have created a stunning example of a phenomenon known as a light echo, where light appears to reverberate through the murky environment around the star.

RS Puppis is unusual as it is shrouded by a nebula — thick, dark clouds of gas and dust. Hubble observed this star and its murky environment over a period of five weeks in 2010, capturing snapshots at different stages in its cycle and enabling scientists to create a time-lapse video of this ethereal object (heic1323a).

Read the full press release

Also see the NASA press release

Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 12:22

First discovered in 2007, "fast radio bursts" continue to defy explanation. These cosmic chirps last for only a thousandth of a second. The characteristics of the radio pulses suggested that they came from galaxies billions of light-years away. However, new work points to a much closer origin - flaring stars within our own galaxy.

"We propose that fast radio bursts aren't as exotic as astronomers first thought," says lead author Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Fast radio bursts are both brief and bright, packing a lot of energy into a short time. Only six have been discovered to date, all of them in archival data. Each was detected only once, making follow-up studies difficult.

NOAO/SOAR: Where do stars end and brown dwarfs begin? Monday, December 9, 2013 - 15:15

Stars come in a tremendous size range, from many tens of times bigger than the Sun to a tiny fraction of its size. But the answer to just how small an astronomical body can be, and still be a star, has never been known. What is known is that objects below this limit are unable to ignite and sustain hydrogen fusion in their cores: these objects are referred to as brown dwarfs.

 “We can now point to a temperature (2100K), radius (8.7% that of our Sun), and luminosity (1/8000 of the Sun) and say ‘the main sequence ends there’ and we can identify a particular star (with the designation 2MASS J0513-1403) as a representative of the smallest stars.”

Read the full press release

Observing the Next Galactic Supernova Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 16:46

The last time a supernova was observed within the Milky Way was in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, and was only appreciated by the human eye, since optical telescopes and other measurement devices had not yet been invented. Despite a lack of hard observational data, astronomers have a theoretical framework to describe the processes that occur during a supernova, and numerical simulations are always growing more detailed and sophisticated. Still, without observation, neither theory nor numerical result can be put to the test.

While supernovae in our galaxy are relatively rare, extragalactic supernovae are not. That is because there are countless galaxies that have supernova rates similar to that of the Milky Way. But, due to their distance from Earth are not resolvable and offer little insight into the mechanisms at work during the explosion. Although astronomers haven’t observed supernovae in the Milky Way for several hundred years (read on to find out why this may be), the good news here is that astronomers are developing methods to be ready when the next one happens...

Read the summary on Astrobites

Read the paper from arXiv

Explosive growth of young star Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 10:03

A star is formed when a large cloud of gas and dust condenses and eventually becomes so dense that it collapses into a ball of gas, where the pressure heats the matter, creating a glowing gas ball – a star is born. New research from the Niels Bohr Institute, among others, shows that a young, newly formed star in the Milky Way had such an explosive growth, that it was initially about 100 times brighter than it is now. The results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Read the full press release from the Niels Bohr Institute

Read the pre-print paper from arXiv

Authors: Jes K. Jorgensen, Ruud Visser, Nami Sakai, Edwin A. Bergin, Christian Brinch, Daniel Harsono, Johan E. Lindberg, Ewine F. van Dishoeck, Satoshi Yamamoto, Suzanne E. Bisschop, Magnus V. Persson

The Star of Bethlehem is Not the Nova DO Aquilae (Nor Any Other Nova, Supernova, or Comet) Monday, December 2, 2013 - 09:56

The Star of Bethlehem is only known from a few verses in the Gospel of Matthew, with the Star inspiring and leading the Magi (i.e., Persian astrologers) to Jerusalem and ultimately worshipping the young Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. In the last four centuries, astronomers have put forth over a dozen greatly different naturalistic explanations, all involving astronomical events, often a bright nova, supernova, or comet. This paper will evaluate one prominent recent proposal, that the Star was a 'recurrent nova' now catalogued as DO Aquilae, and provide three refutations. In particular, (1) DO Aql is certainly not a recurrent nova, but rather an ordinary nova with a recurrence time scale of over a million years, (2) in its 1925 eruption, DO Aql certainly never got brighter than 8.5 mag, and the physics of the system proves that it could never get to the required luminosity of a supernova, and (3) the Magi were astrologers who had no recognition or interpretation for novae (or supernovae or comets) so any such event is completely irrelevant and meaningless to them.

Author: Bradley Schaefer

Read the paper on arXiv

Orbital Decay of X-ray Binaries Sunday, December 1, 2013 - 12:07

The authors investigate the orbital decay of two black hole X-ray binaries. Combined with previous data, they were able to measure how fast the orbit is decaying and make predictions about the exact cause of this orbital decay. These systems are some of the best to look for this orbital decay because of their extreme masses compared to other systems. By obtaining spectra to create a radial velocity curve, the authors were able to add an additional O-C point with a larger baseline than before. This larger baseline is important because it allows time for small changes to build up.

Read the full story on Astrobites


A Fiery Drama of Star Birth and Death Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 10:49

The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to our own. Astronomers have now used the power of ESO’s Very Large Telescope to explore one of its lesser known regions. This new image shows clouds of gas and dust where hot new stars are being born and are sculpting their surroundings into odd shapes. But the image also shows the effects of stellar death — filaments created by a supernova explosion.

Read the full press release

Something cataclysmic in the Kepler field Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 15:15

BOKS 45906 was identified as having colors consistent with other CVs in a pre-launch survey of the Kepler spacecraft’s field of view, and was also seen to go through an outburst period, increasing in brightness by a factor of ~25 for five days.  Ramsay et al. were looking to study CVs in the Kepler field, so they included it as one of their targets for further monitoring during the Kepler mission. In the end, they were able to use three years of Kepler data, as well as observations from the Isaac Newton TelescopeSwift, and the Hale 200″ Telescope, to learn more.

Read the full story on Astrobites

Imaging the circumstellar environment of the young T Tauri star SU Aurigae Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 09:54

The circumstellar environments of classical T Tauri stars are challenging to directly image because of their high star-to-disk contrast ratio. One method to overcome this is by using imaging polarimetry where scattered and consequently polarised starlight from the star's circumstellar disk can be separated from the unpolarised light of the central star. We present images of the circumstellar environment of SU Aur, a classical T Tauri star at the transition of T Tauri to Herbig stars. The images directly show that the disk extends out to ~500 au with an inclination angle of $\sim$ 50$^\circ$. Using interpretive models, we derived very small grains in the surface layers of its disk, with a very steep size- and surface-density distribution. Additionally, we resolved a large and extended nebulosity in our images that is most likely a remnant of the prenatal molecular cloud. The position angle of the disk, determined directly from our images, rules out a polar outflow or jet as the cause of this large-scale nebulosity.

Authors: S. V. Jeffers, M. Min, H. Canovas, M. Rodenhuis, and C. U. Keller

Read the paper on arXiv

BOKS 45906: a CV with an orbital period of 56.6 min in the Kepler field? Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 08:55

BOKS 45906 was found to be a blue source in the Burrell-Optical-Kepler-Survey which showed a 3 mag outburst lasting ~5 d. We present the Kepler light curve of this source which covers nearly 3 years. We find that it is in a faint optical state for approximately half the time and shows a series of outbursts separated by distinct dips in flux. Using data with 1 min sampling, we find clear evidence that in its low state BOKS 45906 shows a flux variability on a period of 56.5574+/-0.0014 min and a semi-amplitude of ~3 percent. Since we can phase all the 1 min cadence data on a common ephemeris using this period, it is probable that 56.56 min is the binary orbital period. Optical spectra of BOKS 45906 show the presence of Balmer lines in emission indicating it is not an AM CVn (pure Helium) binary. Swift data show that it is a weak X-ray source and is weakly detected in the bluest of the UVOT filters. We conclude that BOKS 45906 is a cataclysmic variable with a period shorter than the `period-bounce' systems and therefore BOKS 45906 could be the first helium-rich cataclysmic variable detected in the Kepler field.

Authors: Gavin Ramsay (Armagh Observatory), Steve B. Howell, Matt A. Wood, Alan Smale, Thomas Barclay, Sally A. Seebode, Dawn Gelino, Martin Still, John K. Cannizzo

Read the paper

Radial velocity variations in the young eruptive star EX Lup Monday, November 18, 2013 - 23:37

EX Lup-type objects (EXors) are low-mass pre-main sequence objects characterized by outbursts attributed to highly enhanced disk accretion. The trigger mechanism of EXor outbursts is still debated. One theory requires a close (sub)stellar companion that perturbs the inner disk and triggers the onset of the outburst. Here, we study the radial velocity (RV) variations of EX Lup, the prototype of EXors. We conducted a 5-year RV survey with HARPS and FEROS.

We discuss two possibilities to explain the RV data: a geometry with two accretion columns rotating with the star, and a single accretion flow synchronized with the orbital motion of the hypothetical companion. In the companion scenario, the companion's mass would fall into the brown dwarf desert, which, together with the unusually small separation would make EX Lup a unique binary system, with interesting implications on the physical mechanisms responsible for triggering the outburst.

Authors:  Á. Kóspál, M. Mohler-Fischer, A. Sicilia-Aguilar, P. Ábrahám, M. Curé, Th. Henning, Cs. Kiss, R. Launhardt, A. Moór, A. Müller

Read the full abstract and pre-print paper on arXiv

A review of pulsating stars from the ASAS data Monday, November 18, 2013 - 10:28

The All-Sky Automated Survey (ASAS) appeared to be extremely useful in establishing the census of bright variable stars in the sky. A short review of the characteristics of the ASAS data and discoveries based on these data and related to pulsating stars is presented here by an enthusiastic user of the ASAS data.

Author:  Andrzej Pigulski

Read the pre-print from arXiv

Hubble views an old and mysterious cluster Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 11:44

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the best ever image of the globular cluster Messier 15, a gathering of very old stars that orbits the centre of the Milky Way. Astronomers studying the cluster with Hubble in 2002 found there to be something dark and mysterious lurking at its heart. It could either be a collection of dark neutron stars, or an intermediate-mass black hole. Of the two possibilities it is more likely that Messier 15 harbours a black hole at its centre.

Read the press release


Photometric evolution of Nova Del 2013 (V339 Del) during the optically thick phase Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 09:33

We present and discuss the BVRI photometric evolution of Nova Del 2013 from the time of discovery, which occurred a few days before maximum brightness, to day +77, when the optically thick phase was over.


Authors: U. Munari, A. Henden, S. Dallaporta, G. Cherini


Read the pre-print on arXiv

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