Tag Archives: Wolf-Rayet stars

New Wolf-Rayet star discovered 8,000 light years away

Astronomers have discovered a Wolf-Rayet star — the kind of star thought to eventually cause major explosions — 8,000 light years away.

The binary star system, containing a pair of massive ‘Wolf-Rayet’ stars, has been discovered by an international team of researchers, including Professor Paul Crowther from the University of Sheffield, and published in Nature Astronomy.

Wolf-Rayet stars are amongst the hottest stars in the Universe, blast out powerful winds of hot gas, and represent the last stage in the evolution of the most massive stars prior to exploding as a supernova.

Located around 8,000 light years away – half a billion times further away than our Sun – the binary system is surrounded by a gigantic dust cloud. The collision between the winds of the two stars can form dust, which takes on elegant spiral pinwheel shapes as the stars orbit each other.

Expect to see a number of news articles hinting at how this system is a deadly threat to Earth. It is not. For one thing, it is too far away for any supernovae or gamma ray burst to cause serious harm here. Second, it will be a long time before any of that is going to happen.

Wolf-Rayet stars however are rare, and being able to study them helps astronomers better understand the life and death of stars. Having another so relatively close is a boon to astronomers.

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Was the solar system formed inside a giant bubble?

Don’t bet the house on this! Astronomers have come up with a new theory for the formation of the solar system, that it was formed inside a giant bubble inside a Wolf-Rayet star, in order to explain the known ratios of certain isotopes here.

The new theory for how the solar system formed starts with an extremely massive star known as a Wolf-Rayet star. Of all the stars in the universe, these stars burn the hottest. Because they are so hot, they also have exceptionally strong stellar winds.

As a Wolf-Rayet star sheds its outer layers – a normal end-of-life process for a giant star – its strong stellar winds plow through its loosely held cloak of material, forming densely shelled bubbles. According to the study, the solar system could have formed inside of one of these bubbles.

While this theory would explain a number of mysteries about the ratios of aluminum-26 and iron-60 in our solar system, which correspond closer to those in a Wolf-Rayet star than the galaxy itself, it is quite far-fetched. More hard data is necessary, including real evidence of such things actually happening in such stars, before it can be taken very seriously.

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