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Vampire Star Reveals its Secrets

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO/PIONIER/IPAG

Credit: ESO/PIONIER/IPAG

Astronomers have obtained the best images ever of a star that has lost most of its material to a vampire companion. By combining the light captured by four telescopes at ESO’s Paranal Observatory they created a virtual telescope 130 metres across with vision 50 times sharper than the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Surprisingly, the new results show that the transfer of mass from one star to the other in this double system is gentler than expected.

We can now combine light from four VLT telescopes and create super-sharp images much more quickly than before,” says Nicolas Blind (IPAG, Grenoble, France), who is the lead author on the paper presenting the results, “The images are so sharp that we can not only watch the stars orbiting around each other, but also measure the size of the larger of the two stars.

The astronomers observed [1] the unusual system SS Leporis in the constellation of Lepus (The Hare), which contains two stars that circle around each other in 260 days. The stars are separated by only a little more than the distance between the Sun and the Earth, while the largest and coolest of the two stars extends to one quarter of this distance — corresponding roughly to the orbit of Mercury. Because of this closeness, the hot companion has already cannibalised about half of the mass of the larger star.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1148/