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Astronomers discover new binary star system

A new type of star system has been discovered by an international team of scientists.

The system, the first of its kind to be found in our own galaxy, is believed to contain what is known as a Wolf-Rayet star, which is spinning extremely fast.

This could produce one of the most powerful explosions in the Universe.

Spiral cloud

Located around 8,000 light years away, the binary system is surrounded by a gigantic dust cloud in the shape of a spiral.

Wolf-Rayet stars are amongst the hottest stars in the Universe, characterised by their distinctive chemical make-up and strong stellar winds. 

They blast out powerful winds of hot gas, and are the final stage of the most massive stars, before they explode as supernovae.

Spectacular shape

The newly found system is what is known as a Wolf-Rayet colliding wind binary.

The supersonic winds of the Wolf-Rayet star and its companion crash into each other, generating X-rays and radio emissions, and forming dust, which takes on elegant spiral pinwheel shapes as the stars orbit each other.

Scientists have named the system after an ancient Egyptian god – a gargantuan serpent embodying chaos, named Apep.

The name was chosen for the system’s shape, which was deemed to be reminiscent of a snake coiled around the central stars.

This serpentine swirl was captured by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The study, published in Nature Astronomy, was carried out by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, New York University, and the Universities of Sydney, Edinburgh, Sheffield, University and New South Wales.

This binary star system is a striking example of one of the most energy-intensive events in astronomy. Thanks to the collective efforts of an international team, and excellent technology, we are able to learn more about these incredible systems.

Peredur WilliamsSchool of Physics and Astronomy

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