This massive triple-star system is about to go into a supernova and could be the first gamma explosion seen in our galaxy.
Astronomers have found a unique "star-wheel" system in our galaxy, one that will eventually die in a massive explosion that has never been seen here in the Milky Way, New research reports.
Scientists believe that one of the stars – about 8,000 light-years from Earth – is the first known candidate in the Milky Way to produce a dangerous gamma-ray burst, one of the most energetic events in the universe when it explodes and dies.
"This is the first such system to be discovered in our galaxy," said study author Joseph Clingham, an astronomer with the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy. "We never expected to find such a system in our backyard," he said in a statement.
The authors named Apep star star after the glittering deity from the ancient Egyptian mythology that the enemy mortality of the Sun God Ra. The author of the study, Peter Toth of the University of Sydney, said that "the name seems appropriate, as the winding dust block looks like a twisted snake making a battle with a central star."
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Apep's star spirits created the cloud of dust surrounding the system, consisting of a binary star with a weaker companion.
The star rotates so fast that it is close to tearing itself apart. Scientists are not sure when the star system will finally explode as a supernova, perhaps in thousands of years, but when it does, it will be spectacular.
Gamma-ray bursts are among the most powerful explosions in the universe. Lasting between several thousand of a second for a few hours, they can release as much of the energy as the sun emits over its entire life, according to the study.
Fortunately, the star does not seem to be Earth-oriented, because a gamma strike so close (in cosmic terms) could tear ozone out of our atmosphere and drastically increase our exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.
Scientists believe that an eruption of gamma rays could cause a huge extinction event on Earth some 450 million years ago.
The study was published Monday in the British journal Nature Astronomy.
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