The most massive stars in the universe have paths that are not as calm as previously thought. According to new a new study, massive stars come very close to neighboring stars and suck material from their companions – much like a vampire does – or they melt together to become even more massive.
Massive stars – also known as O stars – are the brightest and the most short-lived stars in the universe. In the beginning, they are more than 15 times as massive as our sun. They end their lives in spectacular supernova explosions or gamma ray bursts. They account for a large part of all the heavy elements in the universe.
An international team of researchers have discovered that the most massive stars in the universe don’t spend their lives in space as singles as was previously thought. More than two-thirds orbit a partner star.
Professor Norbert Langer from the University of Bonn worked on the study. He said:
The orbit paths of the stars are very close together so that the region around these stars is turbulent and by far not as calm as previously thought.
What happens, said the researchers, is that one star can suck the material out of its companion like a vampire or both stars can melt to become an even larger massive star.
Astronomers evaluated more than ten years’ worth of observations using one of the world’s largest telescopes, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile’s Atacama Desert. A total of 71 massive stars in six young galactic star clusters were observed for years. Through close-knit monitoring, researchers were able to determine the paths of over three-quarters of the double stars discovered. The researchers concluded that the vast majority of all massive stars spend their lives with a partner. Over time, roughly one-third of the star systems melts with their companion, while the other two-thirds transfer material to its partner.
The study on the lives of massive stars was published in the journal Science in July 2012.
Bottom line: According to a study on the lives of massive stars in the journal Science in July 2012, massive stars come very close to neighboring stars and suck material from their companions – much like a vampire does – or they melt together to become even more massive.