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Astronomers Uncover Mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, See the Destiny of Binary Stars

Blue Ring Nebula

A crew of scientists together with Princeton’s Guðmundur Stefánsson investigated the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, composed of increasing hydrogen fuel (blue) increasing from a central star, which is the remnant core of a stellar merger. Pink filaments are shockwave filaments from the merging occasion. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Seibert (Carnegie Establishment for Science)/Okay. Hoadley (Caltech)/GALEX Group

Scientists have found a uncommon object known as the Blue Ring Nebula, a hoop of hydrogen fuel with a star at its heart. The properties of this method counsel it’s the remnant of two stars assembly their final demise: an inward orbital dance that resulted within the two stars merging. The consequence provides a brand new window into the destiny of many tightly orbiting binary star programs.

In 2004, scientists with NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer noticed an object not like any they’d seen in our Milky Manner Galaxy: a big, faint blob of fuel that appeared to have a star at its heart. Within the ultraviolet wavelengths utilized by the satellite tv for pc, the blob appeared blue — although it doesn’t truly emit mild seen to the human eye — and cautious observations recognized two thick rings inside it, so the crew nicknamed it the Blue Ring Nebula. Over the following 16 years, they studied it with a number of Earth- and space-based telescopes, however the extra they realized about it, the extra mysterious it appeared.

A crew of scientists together with Princeton College’s Guðmundur Stefánsson, the Henry Norris Russell Postdoctoral Fellow in astrophysical sciences, mixed ground-based observations with detailed theoretical modeling to analyze the article’s properties. The paper describing their findings seems within the November 19, 2020, challenge of Nature.

“We had been in the course of observing one night time, with a brand new spectrograph that we had lately constructed, after we acquired a message from our colleagues a few peculiar object composed of a nebulous fuel increasing quickly away from a central star,” mentioned Stefánsson. “How did it type? What are the properties of the central star? We had been instantly excited to assist resolve the thriller!”

Most stars within the Milky Manner are in binary programs — pairs of stars orbiting one another. If they’re shut sufficient collectively, such programs can meet their demise in a stellar merging occasion: As stars evolve, they increase, and if they’re shut sufficient collectively, one of many stars can engulf its orbiting companion, inflicting the companion to spiral inward till the 2 stars collide. Because the companion loses its orbital vitality, it might eject materials away at excessive speeds.

Might that designate the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula?

Additional proof in help of this speculation got here from observations with two completely different spectrographs on massive telescopes on the bottom: the HIRES optical spectrograph on the 10-meter Keck Telescope on high of Maunakea in Hawaii, and the near-infrared Liveable-zone Planet Finder on the 10-meter Passion-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas, a brand new near-infrared spectrograph that Stefánsson helped design, construct and fee to detect planets round close by stars.


The Blue Ring Nebula consists of two increasing cones of particles. The bottom of 1 cone is shifting towards Earth. Each bases are outlined in magenta, revealing shockwaves created because the particles races via area. Blue represents materials behind the shockwave and is seen solely the place the cones overlap. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Damage

“The spectroscopic observations had been key in permitting us to know the article additional, from which we see that the central star is inflated, and we see signatures of accretion seemingly from a surrounding disk of particles,” Stefánsson mentioned. 

“Certainly, the spectroscopic information coupled with theoretical modeling exhibits that the Blue Ring Nebula is in line with the image of a merging binary star system, suggesting that the inwards spiraling companion was seemingly a low-mass star,” mentioned Keri Hoadley, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech and lead writer of the paper.

Though the relics of some such binary merging occasions have been noticed earlier than, all such objects have been enshrouded by opaque mud and clouds, obstructing the view of the properties of the central stellar remnant. The Blue Ring Nebula is the one object permitting an unobstructed view of the central stellar remnant, providing a transparent window into its properties and yielding clues in regards to the merging course of.

“The Blue Ring Nebula is uncommon,” mentioned Hoadley. “As such, it’s actually thrilling that we had been capable of finding it, and we’re enthusiastic about the potential for discovering extra such objects sooner or later. In that case, that may enable us to realize additional insights into the remnants of stellar mergers and the processes that govern them.”

Learn Perplexing 16-12 months-Previous Cosmic Thriller Solved, Revealing Stellar Lacking Hyperlink for extra on this research.

Reference: “A blue ring nebula from a stellar merger a number of thousand years in the past” by Keri Hoadley, D. Christopher Martin, Brian D. Metzger, Mark Seibert, Andrew McWilliam, Ken J. Shen, James D. Neill, Gudmundur Stefansson, Andrew Monson and Bradley E. Schaefer, 18 November 2020, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2893-5

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