"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
What happens when stars collide? In this case, a newly observed kind of pulsating star
It sure would be interesting to watch two stars run into each other — from a safe distance, of course. One can imagine there would be quite the titanic battle going on between their competing gravitational forces, throwing off gas and matter as they collide.
They also leave behind interesting echoes, at least according to new research. A European team looked at the leftovers of one collision and found a type of pulsating star that has never been seen before.
It’s common for stars to form in groups or to be paired up, since they form from immense gas clouds. Sometimes, a red giant star in a binary system gets so big that it will bump into a companion star orbiting nearby. This crash could shave 90% of the red giant star’s mass off, but astronomers are still trying to get their heads around what happens.
Researchers who made the find were actually on the hunt for alien planets. They turned up what is called an “eclipsing” binary system, meaning that one of the stars passes in front of the other from the perspective of Earth. Observations revealed that “the remnant of the stripped red giant is a new type of pulsating star”.
The next step for the researchers will be to calculate when the star will begin cooling down and become a white dwarf, which is what is left behind after a star runs out of fuel to burn.
Image credit: Keele University