A system containing two massive stars on an inescapable collision course, called VFTS 352, has been spotted by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope.
According to the study’s lead author, Leonardo A. Almeida from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, “The VFTS 352 is the best case yet found for a hot and massive double star that may show this kind of internal mixing. As such it’s a fascinating and important discovery.”
Researchers believe that the star system will reach its demise in two possible ways. First, the two stars could merge into one massive, spinning, and magnetic super star. According to Hugues Sana, the project’s head scientist and researcher from the University of Leuven in Belgium, “If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst.”
The second possible outcome, according to Selma de Mink of the University of Amsterdam, and the project’s lead theoretical astrophysicist, is a little different. “If the stars are mixed well enough, they both remain compact and the VFTS 352 system may avoid merging. This would lead the objects down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions. In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes. Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.”
While it may be less clear what would become of the star and its components in the second scenario, it goes without saying that the star system is likely to come to a catastrophic demise. Astronomers will keep a close watch, and hopefully witness an entirely new phenomenon for the first time.