Sep 22, 2017 | By Tess

A group of scientists have used 3D modeling and 3D printing to physically recreate (on a tiny scale) the explosion pattern of a star located 25,000 light-years from Earth.

Looking up at the night sky, if we are lucky enough to even see the stars through city haze and clouds, it is hard not to think of what the stars are up to, how old they are, and how it is even possible that so many gaseous balls of fire exist out in space.

Astronomers, of course, have some insight into these questions, as they spend their time monitoring and researching various stars and their behaviors. One star system that has caught the eyes of astronomers since the 1930s is called V745 Sco.

Located 25,000 light-years from our planet,  V745 Sco consists of two stars: an old red giant and a small white dwarf, making it a binary star system. The two stars are in orbit with each other due to their proximity, and because of the white dwarf’s strong gravitational pull, outer layers from the red giant are attracted to its surface.

Now, I can’t say I’m a solar expert, but as I understand it, as the material from the red giant gathers and accumulates on the white dwarf’s surface, the risk of thermonuclear explosion increases. When such an explosion inevitably occurs, a nova is caused, which is described as “a dramatic brightening of the binary.”

V745 Sco has kept astronomers rapt for decades, as outbursts occurring in 1937 and 1989 were recorded but caught scientists by surprise. Not willing to miss another chance to see and monitor V745 Sco nova, astronomers were ready when a flare up occurred in 2014.

On February 6, 2014, scientists had their telescopes ready, and NASA even had its Chandra X-ray Observatory geared up to catch the stellar event. The most interesting information, as it turns out, has come from the weeks after the nova outburst, as scientists discovered that the material from the explosion was moving in the direction of Earth.

To help understand this phenomenon, a team from the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, the University of Palermo, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics created a 3D model of the explosion. In fact, they even 3D printed a physical model of the exploding star to have a more tangible way of studying the outburst patterns.

In the 3D model, the scientists represented the blast wave in yellow, while the mass ejected by the explosion represented in purple. The disk of cooler material, largely untouched by the outburst, is seen in blue. The more simplified 3D print consists of the ejected material (in yellow) and the blast wave (in grey).

“The computer calculations showed that the nova explosion's blast wave and ejected material were likely concentrated along the north and south poles of the binary system,” reads a release about the project. “This shape was caused by the blast wave slamming into the disk of cool gas around the binary.”

(Images: NASA's Chandra X-ray Center)

“This interaction caused the blast wave and ejected material to slow down along the direction of this disk and produce an expanding ring of hot, X-ray emitting gas. X-rays from the material moving away from us were mostly absorbed and blocked by the material moving towards Earth, explaining why it appeared that most of the material was moving towards us,” it continues.

To get an idea as to the scale of the explosion, the scientists liken the stellar blast to the equivalent of about 10 million trillion hydrogen bombs. Even the material ejected from the explosion was of a massive scale, likely weighing about a tenth of our own planet’s mass. Oh my stars!

Still, the explosion was not enough to completely destroy the white dwarf, so perhaps scientists will get more chances to study novas between the binary stars.

A study detailing the star system project was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It was authored by Salvatore Orlando from the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo in Italy, Jeremy Drake from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Marco Miceli from the University of Palermo.



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