There’s a sibling spat blowing up in a binary star system called AR Scorpii, 380 light-years away from Earth. In results published in Nature on Thursday, a team of international scientists paint a Star Wars-esque scene: A white dwarf star is spinning so fast that it’s causing particles around it to charge up to the speed of light, then blast off intense beams of radiation out at the companion, otherwise docile, red dwarf star. The whole star system is becoming so jarred that it’s throbbing with electromagnetic waves every 1.97 minutes.
Yeah, you’d be crazy to move into this neighborhood.
“AR Scorpii was discovered over 40 years ago, but its true nature was not suspected until we started observing it in 2015,” said study lead author Tom Marsh, from the University of Warwick in the UK, in a news release. “We realized we were seeing something extraordinary within minutes of starting the observations.”
The new findings are thanks to some observations made with the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory and the Hubble Space telescope. The white dwarf is basically as big as the Earth, but possesses a walloping 200,000 times more mass. Meanwhile, the red dwarf sibling is about one-third the mass of the sun. The two buggers are orbiting each other every 3.6 hours.
Meanwhile, because the white dwarf is spinning like a coked-up ballerina, the electrons nearby are getting whipped up and shot like light beams towards the cooler, calmer red dwarf. The real mystery, however, is the origin for these electrons in the first place. Are they associated with either star? Are they from somewhere else?
It’s going to take more research to solve that. In the meantime, however, we can just enjoy the fact that somewhere in the universe, there’s a star shooting ultra-powerful pulsations of rays at another star. It’s something quite unlike what any astronomers ever imagined possible.
Photos via M. Garlick/University of Warwick/ESO