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Doomed Star Could Fire Milky Way’s First Gamma-Ray Burst

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Astronomers at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy have found a star system about 8000 light years from Earth that is the first known candidate in the Milky Way to produce a dangerous gamma-ray burst when it explodes and dies.

The system comprises a pair of scorchingly luminous Wolf-Rayet stars in the southern constellation of Norma, just beneath Scorpio’s tail. One star is on the brink of a massive supernova explosion.

The findings, published in Nature Astronomy (https://goo.gl/2eCfg3), are controversial as no gamma-ray burst has ever been detected within the Milky Way.

The Wolf-Rayet stars orbit each other every 100 years or so. Using spectroscopy, the astronomers measured the stellar winds streaming off the stars at 12 million km/h, which is about 1% the speed of light.

“When we saw the stunning dust plume coiled around these incandescent stars, we decided to name it ‘Apep’ – the monstrous serpent deity and mortal enemy of Sun god Ra from Egyptian mythology,” said Dr Joe Callingham, lead author of the study.

“When we saw the spiral dust tail we immediately knew we were dealing with a rare and special kind of nebula called a pinwheel,” said Prof Peter Tuthill, research group leader at the University of Sydney. “The curved tail is formed by the orbiting binary stars at the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.