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Incredible image shows two massive stars locked in battle

Published Feb 7th, 2020 9:36AM EST
stars crashing
Image: ALMA/ ESO/ NAOJ/ NRAO)/ Olofsson et al./ Robert Cumming

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Our Sun flies solo, chilling out in a relatively calm arm of the Milky Way galaxy and not causing much trouble for its stellar neighbors. That’s great for us, but it’s not uncommon for astronomers to find stars that orbit each other closely in an object called a binary. Binary star systems aren’t uncommon, but few have given scientists the kind of show that HD101584 has.

This particular two-star system are in the middle of a rough patch in their relationship. Using high-powered telescopes, astronomers were able to capture the pair in a violent exchange, and the resulting image is truly jaw-dropping.

It’s difficult to tell exactly what you’re seeing in the image above, but a new research paper published in Astronomy & Astrophysics reveals what is really going on. The larger star in this binary system was in the process of expanding into a red giant. As it did so, it was about to literally swallow up its smaller partner star, but that’s when things went a bit sideways.

When the larger star began to engulf the smaller one, the smaller star actually spun inwards toward the center of the would-be red giant. As EarthSky explains, the smaller star didn’t actually collide with the core of its larger partner, but the bizarre circumstances caused the larger star to blow its top, so to speak, blasting layers of gas into space.

The result is what we see above, with layers of gas in red and blue being shed into space and a whole lot of turbulence happening right in the center of the image. Spotting such an event as it unfolds is a real treat for astronomers, and along with the current paper, additional research is being conducted to learn more about the event and how it’s playing out.