NASA's Kepler Spectators Vampire Star System Experiencing Super-Outburst

27 Janvier, 2020, 19:10 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Scientists come across 'Vampire' star gorging on victim

The material collects into an accretion disk until reaching a tipping point, causing it to suddenly increase in brightness.

The team prepares to resume digging Kepler data, as well as information from another exoplanet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, in hunt of other visitors on the solar system.

"We've used it to see stars as they explode, the secret lives of black holes and now things previously missed - this vampire star that had been lurking in the darkness of space", said Dr. Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The framework lit up by a factor of 1,600 over not precisely a day prior gradually blurring endlessly. While the outburst itself has a theoretical explanation, the slow rise in brightness that preceded it remains a mystery.

The star system comprises of a white dwarf star with a brown dwarf partner about one-tenth as large as the white dwarf. White Dwarfs are what stars become when they have exhausted their nuclear fuel, while Brown Dwarfs are huge celestial bodies that are larger than the largest planets but smaller than the smallest stars.

The Vampire star is reportedly 3,000 light-years away from Earth and is believed to be "gorging" on much smaller brown stars close to it.

The extraordinary event was identified by researchers mining data from the retired Kepler probe, which has scanned space in search of Earth-sized planets orbiting stars.

It was luck that Kepler was in the right place at the right time when the feeding frenzy occurred, able to capture every detail.

"It was a lucky find, pure chance", Ridden-Harper said, "we were looking through archived data from the Kepler Space Telescope".

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"The discovery of this dwarf nova was unexpected since it wasn't what we were searching for, but it provided excellent data and new insights into these vampire star systems", said Mr. Ridden-Harper, who made the discovery in collaboration with colleagues at ANU and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and the University of Notre Dame in the United States.

Kepler's data observed the dwarf nova over a period of 30 days during which it rapidly became brighter, 1,600 times brighter to be precise.

Kepler was the only instrument capable of witnessing the super-outburst, because the star system was too close to the Sun from Earth's perspective. At its peak, the super-outburst may have reached up to 11,700 degrees Celcius', said Harper.

"These dwarf nova techniques were studied for a long time, so recognizing something contemporary is rather tough", acknowledged Ridden-Harper. Standard theories of accretion disk physics don't predict this phenomenon, which has subsequently been observed in two other dwarf nova super-outbursts. "We see gradual addition circles all finished-from recently shaping stars to supermassive dark gaps-so it's imperative to get them". Because it consumed more material and grew in dimension, its temperature rose on the height of the massive-outburst.

This type of dwarf nova system is rare, with only about 100 known examples. An individual system may go for years or decades between outbursts, making it a challenge to catch one in the act.

"The continuous observations by Kepler/K2, and now TESS, of these dynamic stellar systems allows us to study the earliest hours of the outburst, a time domain that is almost impossible to reach from ground-based observatories", said Peter Garnavich of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"The detection of this object raises hopes for detecting even more rare events hidden in Kepler data", said co-author Armin Rest of STScI.


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