Magazine article Science News

Old Stars Glean Neighbors' Gas: Snatching Matter Helps Blue Stragglers Stay Youthful

Magazine article Science News

Old Stars Glean Neighbors' Gas: Snatching Matter Helps Blue Stragglers Stay Youthful

Article excerpt

Stealing keeps some stars looking young. The thieves, called blue stragglers, swipe material from a neighbor, leaving behind a dead stellar companion as a calling card, data from the Hubble Space Telescope show.

Natalie Gosnell, an astronomer at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, and colleagues discovered three blue stragglers that share orbits with white dwarfs, the remnants of dead stars. The findings, posted January 29 at arXiv.org, match astronomers' ideas about what would be left if a blue straggler took gas from a now-defunct companion star. The stolen goods allow the blue stragglers to burn hotter and look bluer, as much younger stars would.

"These blue stragglers absolutely did form from taking matter from another star. It is the first time we have been able to say that for a specific population of blue stragglers," Gosnell says.

Determining how blue stragglers pilfer matter and what happens to them may help astronomers better understand the physics of the dozens of other cosmic phenomena that involve mass transfer, such as exchanges between two stars that ultimately cause explosions.

Astronomers first identified blue stragglers in 1953. The stars were puzzling because they were as old as the cooler, redder stars around them. Over the years, astronomers have come up with three explanations for how blue stragglers cover their age: Each straggler could have collided with another star and absorbed matter from it; it could have existed in a star trio and merged with a companion; or it could have stolen mass from another star. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.