Hottest and Most Massive 'Kissing' Binary Stars are Headed for Catastrophe

First Posted: Oct 21, 2015 10:21 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered the hottest and most massive double star to date. The huge double star, with components that are so close they touch each other, is set for catastrophe in the near future.

The double star system is called VFTS 352 and is located about 160,000 light-years away in the Tarantula Nebula. This region is actually the most active nursery of new stars in the nearby universe. Now, researchers are getting a closer look at this system with the help of ESO's Very Large Telescope.

VFTS 352, in particular, is formed from two very hot, bright and massive stars that orbit each other in little more than a day. In fact, the centers of the stars are so close that they're separated by just 12 million kilometers. Their surfaces actually overlap, and a bridge has formed between them, making the object an "overcontact binary."

The object has a combined mass of about 57 times that of the sun. It also contains some of the hottest components in the near-universe, with surface temperatures above 40,000 degrees Celsius.

Interestingly, both of the stars in this binary system are about the same size. This means that materials isn't sucked from one to the other, but is instead shared. In fact, it's estimated that these stars share about 30 percent of their material.

This system is extremely rare, since the life of the stars is short. Because the stars are so close together, astronomers believe that strong tidal forces lead to enhanced mixing of the material in the stellar interiors. This will eventually lead to a cataclysmic fate. Either the two stars will merge into one, possible creating a magnetic, gigantic single star which will explode in a long-duration gamma-ray burst, or the stars will be destroyed in supernova explosions and become a close, binary system of black holes.

The findings reveal a bit more about this system, and shows how close two stars really can be.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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