According to new findings recently presented at the annual gathering of the American Astronomical Society, NASA spotted runaway stars racing at supersonic speeds through the galaxy.
The stars were detected by two of the space agency’s infrared space telescopes: the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescope. The space observatories couldn’t detect the stars directly, but scientists learned about the stars’ existence from the bow waves the stars emit during their trips at neck-breaking speeds.
Researchers reported that the stars move at 54,000 mph, and they are probably expelled from their birthplaces by neighboring stellar explosions, also known as supernovae, or gravity. As they travel through the Milky Way they collect dust and gas, which heat up, and start to glow generating the bow shocks.
By looking at these bow shocks, scientists concluded that they must have been created by super-hot, runaway stars racing through the galaxy. But spotting the curvy red clouds of gas and dust wasn’t an easy task. The team had to carefully comb the Milky Way to eventually find 200 probable ‘bow shocks.’
Next, researchers handpicked 80 of these bow shocks and analyzed them with WIRO, an infrared telescope located in Wyoming. William Chick, leader of the team that analyzed the imagery said that they scrutinized every of the 80 ‘arc-shaped objects’ to see whether a star generated them.
Chick added that to everyone’s surprise 95 percent of the stars fell under the category of hot massive stars, just as they had assumed. They also found that even the stars that hadn’t been deemed ‘runaways’ by previous analysis were in fact so.
The team said that they are now analyzing the nebulae to learn what exactly led to the creation of such runaway stars and how they came into existence. Scientists believe that the Milky Way may be home to thousands of these stars.
The data showed another intriguing fact. One of the speedsters is in fact a binary star, which is a very rare sight. The team now tries to learn what force expelled these twin stars from their neighborhood without separating them.
All in all, runaway stars are still shrouded in mystery. Only recently, infrared telescopes were able to detect them across the sky.
As a follow-up, Chick and his colleagues plan to further investigate the runaways and measure the pace at which they shed mass to have a hint at how they would eventually die. There are two hypotheses: they could either explode and create spectacular supernovas or collapse and generate a black hole.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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