Leicester astronomers observe star reborn in a flash

Posted by ap507 at Sep 13, 2016 04:15 PM |
Stellar evolution studied ‘in real time’ by Leicester team
Leicester astronomers observe star reborn in a flash

This image of the Stingray nebula, a planetary nebula 2700 light-years from Earth, was taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) in 1998

An international team of astronomers using Hubble and led by our University has been able to study stellar evolution in real time.

Over a period of 30 years dramatic increases in the temperature of the star SAO 244567 have been observed. Now the star is cooling again, having been reborn into an earlier phase of stellar evolution. This makes it the first reborn star to have been observed during both the heating and cooling stages of rebirth.

“SAO 244567 is one of the rare examples of a star that allows us to witness stellar evolution in real time”, explains Nicole Reindl from the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Over only twenty years the star has doubled its temperature and it was possible to watch the star ionising its previously ejected envelope, which is now known as the Stingray Nebula.”

Back in 2014 Reindl and her team proposed a theory that resolved the issue of both SAO 244567’s rapid increase in temperature as well as the low mass of the star. They suggested that the heating was due to what is known as a helium-shell flash event: a brief ignition of helium outside the stellar core.

This theory has very clear implications for SAO 244567’s future: if it has indeed experienced such a flash, then this would force the central star to begin to expand and cool again — it would return back to the previous phase of its evolution. This is exactly what the new observations confirmed.

It is not the only example of such a star, but it is the first time ever that a star has been observed during both the heating and cooling stages of such a transformation.