Red explosions: The secret life of binary stars is revealed

Jan 24, 2013 by Brian Murphy
Hubble space telescope images show an expanding burst of light from a red supergiant star. Credit: NASA/ESA

A University of Alberta professor has revealed the workings of a celestial event involving binary stars that results in an explosion so powerful it ranks close to Supernovae in luminosity.

have long debated about what happens when , two stars that orbit one another, come together in a common envelope. When this dramatic cannibalizing event ends there are two possible outcomes; the two stars merge into a single star or an initial binary transforms in an exotic short-period one.

The event is believed to take anywhere from a dozen days to a few hundred years to complete. Either length is considered to be extremely fast in terms of celestial events. More than a half of all stars in the universe are binary stars. Up until now, researchers had no idea what a common envelope event would look like.

U of A Natalia Ivanova analyzed the physics of what happens in the outer layers of a common envelope. She found that hot and ionized material in the common envelope cools and expands and then releases energy in the form of a bright red of light.

Ivanova linked these theoretically anticipated common envelope outbursts with recently discovered Luminous Red Novae, mysterious transients that are brighter than Novae and just a bit less luminous than Supernovae.

Her research provided both a way to identify common envelope events and explained the generated during the common envelope event.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Explore further: Pulse of a dead star powers intense gamma rays

More information: "Identification of the Long-Sought Common-Envelope Events," by N. Ivanova et al. Science, 2013.

Related Stories

Possible eruption on brink for symbiotic variable star

Nov 26, 2010

November 23rd, astronomers from the Asiago Novae and Symbiotic Stars collaboration announced recent changes in the symbiotic variable star, AX Persei, could indicate the onset of a rare eruption of this system. ...

Binary white dwarf stars

May 04, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When a star like our sun gets to be very old, after another seven billion years or so, it will no longer be able to sustain burning its nuclear fuel.

UKIRT discovers 'impossible' binary stars

Jul 05, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A team of astronomers have used the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) on Hawaii to discover four pairs of stars that orbit each other in less than 4 hours. Until now it was thought that ...

Recommended for you

Mystery of rare five-hour space explosion explained

18 hours ago

Next week in St. Petersburg, Russia, scientists on an international team that includes Penn State University astronomers will present a paper that provides a simple explanation for mysterious ultra-long gamma-ray ...

Glowing galaxies in telescopic timelapse

18 hours ago

We often speak of the discoveries and data flowing from astronomical observatories, which makes it easy to forget the cool factor. Think of it—huge telescopes are probing the universe under crystal-clear ...

Violent origins of disc galaxies probed by ALMA

Sep 17, 2014

For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter ...

User comments : 0