What would happen 160,000 light years away from us would once stay in that part of the universe. Not anymore! Thanks to the European Space Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope, 2 very distant stars caught in a system that has been named VFTS 352 were observed in a dynamic interaction that could ultimately result in a deadly ‘final kiss’. The paper is published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Double star system VFTS 352.
The double star system, VFTS 352, located in the Tarantula Nebula, displays a remarkable interaction: the two stars are in close contact – called overcontact binary – such that they are sharing up to 30 % of their make-up, causing them to release an enormous amount of heat.
The centres of the two stars are around 12 million kilometres away – this is considered to be very little for such big stars whose combined mass is 57 times greater than our Sun.
“The VFTS 352 is the best case yet found for a hot and massive double star that may show this kind of internal mixing,” said the lead author of the study, Leonardo A. Almeida of the University of São Paulo in Brazil. “As such it’s a fascinating and important discovery.”
The dangerous proximity is likely to lead the stars to a dramatic and tragic end.
“If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst,” said lead scientist Hugues Sana of the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The stars might keep on orbiting each other such that they finally merge and collapse into a gigantic star. Or, they could end up becoming a double black hole.
“If the stars are mixed well enough, they both remain compact and the VFTS 352 system may avoid merging. This would lead the objects down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions,” said Selma de Mink of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes. Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.”