Astronomers discovered “a ringside seat into beautiful and dangerous physics that we have not seen before in our galaxy. This is the first such Wolf-Rayet star system to be discovered in our own galaxy,” explains Joseph Callingham of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), lead author of the study reporting this system. “We never expected to find such a system in our own backyard.”
“When I made the first image of Apep I was completely blown away,” Callingham wrote to The Daily Galaxy in an email. “It was surprising that something so bright and beautiful had not been discovered until my observations. If my career spans 50 years, I do not think I will make a more beautiful image. However, not only was the image beautiful – it told us that we do not understand the physics of how massive stars die.”
In 2018, the international team of astronomers have found the multiple star system located 8,000 light years away in a unique phase of evolution. One of the stars is a Wolf-Rayet star, meaning it has lost its hydrogen-rich outer envelope, either through strong stellar winds and/or via interactions with its binary companion. The Wolf-Rayet star is also rapidly rotating, and thus is the first known candidate in our Milky Way to end its life as a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB), among the most energetic events in the universe.
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