A runaway star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

March 28, 2018, Lowell Observatory
Observations of the yellow supergiant runaway were conducted using the large 6.5-meter Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory. The Large Magellanic Cloud (companion galaxy to the Small Magellanic Cloud, not shown) is visible right above the telescope enclosure. The bright band of light from lower left to upper right is the southern Milky Way. Credit: Kathryn Neugent

Astronomers have discovered a rare "runaway" star that is speeding across its galaxy at a 300,000 miles per hour (at that speed it would take about half a minute to travel from Los Angeles to New York). The runaway star (designated J01020100-7122208) is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a close neighbor of the Milky Way Galaxy, and is believed to have once been a member of a binary star system. When the companion star exploded as a supernova, the tremendous release of energy flung J01020100-7122208 into space at its high speed. The star is the first runaway yellow supergiant star ever discovered, and only the second evolved runaway star to be found in another galaxy.

After ten million years of traveling through space, the star evolved into a yellow supergiant, the object that we see today. Its journey took it 1.6 degrees across the sky, about three times the diameter of the full moon. The star will continue speeding through space until it too blows up as a supernova, likely in another three million years or so. When that happens, heavier elements will be created, and the resulting supernova remnant may form new or even planets on the outer edge of the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The star was discovered and studied by an international group of astronomers led by Kathryn Neugent, a Lowell Observatory researcher who is also a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle. The team included Lowell staff members Phil Massey and Brian Skiff, Las Campanas (Chile) staff astronomer Nidia Morrell, and Geneva University (Switzerland) theorist Cyril Georgy. Their findings have been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal. The discovery was made using the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's 4-meter Blanco telescope, and the Carnegie Observatory's 6.5-meter Magellan telescope, both located northern Chile. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The north-pole star, Polaris, is a yellow supergiant, as is Canopus, one of the brightest stars visible from the southern hemisphere. Yellow supergiants are very rare objects because the yellow supergiant phase is so short. A massive star may live for as much as ten million years but the yellow supergiant phase itself lasts only ten to a hundred thousand years, an eye-blink in the life of a star. After this short time, yellow supergiants expand into giant red supergiants, like Betelgeuse, with sizes as large as the orbits of Mars or Jupiter. These stars eventually die in spectacular supernova explosions.

Explore further: The lives of stars, or astronomers as paparazzi

More information: A Runaway Yellow Supergiant Star in the Small Magellanic Cloud. arXiv:1803.02859 [astro-ph.SR] arxiv.org/abs/1803.02859

Related Stories

The lives of stars, or astronomers as paparazzi

April 17, 2012

Stars live for a long time, with even the most massive stars having lifetimes measured in millions of years. But, for a mere few thousand years towards the end of their lives, some massive stars go through what astronomers ...

VLT finds fastest rotating star

December 5, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESO's Very Large Telescope has picked up the fastest rotating star found so far. This massive bright young star lies in our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 160 000 light-years from ...

Hubble's bright shining lizard star

April 28, 2017

In space, being outshone is an occupational hazard. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures a galaxy named NGC 7250. Despite being remarkable in its own right—it has bright bursts of star formation and recorded ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.