A system containing two massive stars on an inescapable collision course, called VFTS 352, has been spotted by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope.
Researchers from the European Space Observatory have been working with the Very Large Telescope in search of bizarre stars in distant galaxies. According to a press release, astronomers looking through the Very Large Telescope have spotted a massive double star system whose stars are already touching each other. The system is the hottest and most massive of its kind ever observed.
The system is called VFTS 352, and is located in the Tarantula Nebula roughly 160,000 light years away. The Tarantula Nebula is home to some of the youngest stars in the universe, and is rich with the gases that ultimately combine to form suns.
VFTS 352 is made up of two extremely hot, bright, and heavy stars that complete an orbital cycle around each other in about a day’s time The middles of the two stars are roughly 12 million kilometers apart, and their surfaces have overlapped, forming a bridge between the two stars. It falls into a class called “overcontact binaries,” and is about 57 times more mass than our own sun.
The temperature of VFTS 352 is in excess of 40,000 degrees Celsius, which is extremely important. Star systems like this play an essential role in galactic evolution and development, and are the primary sources for gases like oxygen, which is an essential component of life. The system is similar to “vampire star systems,” where one star siphons the matter surrounding the surface of a nearby larger star.
In VFTS 352, however, the two stars are the same size as one another. Matter is not transferred from one to the other at a constant rate, but is shared at an equilibrium state across the bridge connecting the two stars. They share roughly 30 percent of their surface materials.
The star system is extremely rare. Typically, stars in systems such as this don’t remain in that state for very long, making it difficult for researchers to detect. Researchers believe that strong internal tides are responsible for the mixing of the gases of the two stars.