A team of scientists have found a binary star system
in our Galaxy – about 8000 light years from Earth –
comprising a pair of luminous Wolf-Rayet stars,
one of which is on the brink of a massive supernova explosion.
The system was nicknamed Apep by the team after the
the serpent deity and mortal enemy of Sun god Ra in Egyptian mythology.
The infrared image above, taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope,
shows curved tails of dust expelled from around the orbiting binary stars,
creating a pattern like a rotating lawn sprinkler.
However, the data on the dust tails was puzzling as the stellar
winds were expanding 10 times faster than the dust.
“It was just astonishing,”
Peter Tuthill (USyd) said.
“It was like finding a feather caught in a hurricane just drifting along at walking
pace.” The multi-wavelength study, which involved a number of telescopes
around the world, included observations with the Australia Telescope
Compact Array, was led by former University of Sydney and ATNF co-supervised student
Joe Callingham, who is now at ASTRON.
The results are published in
Nature Astronomy. together with a
behind-the-scenes report from Joe
on how the pieces of the puzzle all came together.