A team of astronomers has discovered two stars in a binary pair in the planetary nebula M3-1 which complete an orbit around each other in a little over three hours.
According to the scientists, led by David Jones of the Instituto Astrofisica de Canarias and the Universidad de La Laguna, the stars could drive a nova explosion - an unexpected event based on our current understanding of binary star evolution.
Using the telescopes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, Jones' team looked at M3-1 over a period of several years. In the process they discovered and studied the binary stars in the centre of the nebula.
We saw that the apparently single star at the centre of the nebula was rapidly changing in brightness
"We knew M3-1 had to host a binary star, so we set about acquiring the observations required to prove this and to relate the properties of the nebula with the evolution of the star or stars that formed it" said Brent Miszalski, researcher at the Southern African Large Telescope, and co-author of the study.
The two stars are so close together that they cannot be resolved from the ground, so instead the presence of the second star is inferred from the variation of their observed combined brightness.
"When we began the observations, it was immediately clear that the system was a binary" added Henri Boffin, researcher at the European Southern Observatory in Germany.
The pair are likely to undergo a so-called nova eruption, the result of the transfer of material from one star to the other
"We saw that the apparently single star at the centre of the nebula was rapidly changing in brightness, and we knew that this must be due to the presence of a companion star."
The team discovered that the central star of the planetary nebula M3-1 has one of the shortest orbital period binary central stars known to date, at just over three hours. The ESO observations also show that the two stars - most likely a white dwarf with a low-mass main sequence companion - are almost touching.
As a result, the pair are likely to undergo a so-called nova eruption, the result of the transfer of material from one star to the other. When this reaches a critical mass, a violent thermonuclear explosion takes place and the system temporarily increases in brightness by up to a million times.
The team will now carry out further study of the nebula and others like it, helping to shed light on the physical processes and origins of novae and supernovae.
There's a new wave of automation hitting big business and the public sector, and organisations that fail to prepare or implement properly will, literally, be left for dead.
Hear from end users and other organisations about how you can effectively automate the enterprise at Computing's Automation: streamlining your essential business processes IT Leaders' Forum.
To reserve your FREE place for the event on Wednesday 7 November, check out the dedicate IT Leaders' Forum website
US space agency believes the crater could have preserved ancient organic molecules from the water that flowed there billions of years ago
Valve quietly closes down hardware initiatives launched following Windows 8
Scientists create a virtual reality simulation of a black hole sitting at the centre of the Milky Way
Simulations like this can help people understand complicated systems in the universe in a better way
The most luminous galaxy ever discovered is cannibalising at least three of its smaller neighbours, study finds
The galaxy radiates at 350 trillion times the luminosity of the Sun