A star is racing out of the Milky Way at a blistering 2.6 million miles an hour (4.2 million kilometers an hour), astronomers report Thursday inScience, making it the fastest moving star ever found. Most other hypervelocity stars, as these speedsters are known, have been flung outward by the enormous gravity of the Milky Way’s central black hole.
This one, by contrast, was probably launched on its high-speed trajectory by a kind of exploding star known as a Type Ia supernova, one of the most powerful and brightest bursts of energy in the universe. Nobody knows for sure what triggers a Type Ia, however—and the fast-moving star, known as US 708, might provide valuable clues.
And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke (Acts 2:19 KJV).
Why it Matters
Cosmic Mystery: It could turn out that a fast-moving star helps solve one of the thorniest problems in astrophysics.
Astronomers would love to know what makes a star explode so violently that the flash can be seen halfway across the universe. Theorists think the process probably starts with a white dwarf, the leftover husk of a star after it swells into a red giant (as our own sun will in about five billion years) and then puffs off its outer layers.
The star, known as US 708, was first discovered in 2005 and is supposed to be the remnant of a red giant. Now, scientists at the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, have measured its full 3D speed, relative to the center of the galaxy, with the help of the data of the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii – and it turns out to be breathtaking: 1,200 kilometers a second or 2.7 million miles per hour, W. M. Keck Observatory reported on Thursday.
“At that speed, you could travel from Earth to the moon in five minutes,” one astronomer at the University of Hawaii Eugene Magnier said in a press-release.
The scientists also found out that the star was spinning quickly, at over 100 kilometers per second, which means that in the past it has received an energetic boost. What is also odd about the star is that it has lost its hydrogen, so common explanations suitable for any other previously discovered hypervelocity stars, do not apply.
Hypervelocity stars are those traveling fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of its galaxy.
Usually, the stars that are going fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of our galaxy resemble the sun and are slower than US 708. They are thought to have once had pairs. However, when one star is sucked in by the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, the other one gets released from the grip of the whole galaxy.
However, astronomers believe that US 708 was in a very close relationship with another star – so close, in fact, that even a black hole couldn’t tear them apart. The current theory suggests that the star’s pair was a white dwarf that might have stolen all its hydrogen, passed on to the partner’s helium core – until the fatal destabilization that caused ignition, turning it into a massive supernova.
“The only way to get rid of the companion is a thermonuclear supernova,” Stephan Geier of the European Southern Observatory said, adding that the star was propelled by the breaking of the pair – but not by the explosion. “It’s not a shockwave, it’s the mere fact that this star is unleashed from this very tight binary.”
Watch Galaxies spiral into each other and create a spectacular light show
The Big Picture
Type Ia supernovae are so bright that astronomers use them to measure the distances to faraway galaxies and to calculate speeds at which those galaxies are flying away from us. Astronomers learned to their astonishment in the late 1990s that this speed has changed: The cosmos is flying apart faster today than it was years ago, pointing to a still unexplained antigravity force known as dark energy.
To understand dark energy, astronomers need to know exactly how the cosmic expansion is changing, which depends on a full understanding of Type Ia’s-including exactly what sets a Type Ia supernova off and how much energy comes out of it.
Now, astronomers, who have published their findings in the Friday issue of journal Science, hope to find more stars like US 708 to study supernovas of this type. They are called “standard candles”, and help measure distances in the universe.
Armed with this new information, Geier and his colleagues are headed back to their telescopes to find more fast-fleeing stars and stellar pairs that might be the raw material for future explosions. If they find enough examples, they might get a handle on the step-by-step process that triggers these mammoth explosions.
“If we can really prove this scenario, then we have a means to study those explosions in a new and very interesting way,” said Geier.
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He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names –Psalm 147:4 (KJV).
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse – Romans 1:20 (KJV).
Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end – Psalm 102:25-27 (KJV).
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth – Psalm 33:6 (KJV).
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (KJV).
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear – Hebrews 11:3 (KJV).
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? – 1 Corinthians 1:20 (KJV).
Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:– Amos 5:8 (KJV).
Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth – Isaiah 40:26 (KJV).
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork -Psalm 19:1 (KJV).
Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars. Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number – Job 9:9-10 (KJV).
…”Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion?” Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?…- Job 38:31-33
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. –1 Corinthians 15:41 (KJV).