Space

Astronomers detect star leaving the Milky Way at record speeds

Astronomers detect star leavin...
Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star that's hurtling through the Milky Way at a staggering 1,200 km per sec(Image: Alex Mit/Shutterstock)
Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star that's hurtling through the Milky Way at a staggering 1,200 km per sec
(Image: Alex Mit/Shutterstock)
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Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star that's hurtling through the Milky Way at a staggering 1,200 km per sec(Image: Alex Mit/Shutterstock)
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Astronomers have identified a white dwarf star that's hurtling through the Milky Way at a staggering 1,200 km per sec
(Image: Alex Mit/Shutterstock)

An international team led by astronomers from Queen's University Belfast has identified the fastest ever star on an escape trajectory from the Milky Way – the white dwarf US708, which is traveling at a staggering 1,200 km per sec (746 miles per sec). The discovery of this star may shed light on the astronomical events that are vital to the calculation of distances in our universe.

The team used data gathered by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope located on Mount Haleakala, Maui, to determine the runaway star's speed and direction. From this it was concluded that US708 originally belonged to a binary star system, whence it was paired with another enormous white dwarf.

It is believed that binary systems of this kind often result in a thermonuclear explosion known as a 'Type la' supernova. This particular form of star death occurs when the incredibly dense larger white dwarf feeds on the stellar material of its partner (in this case the smaller white dwarf US708) until it reaches critical mass – the equivalent of 1.4 solar masses. This is known as the Chandrasekhar limit, and very soon after the star explodes in spectacular thermonuclear fashion.

It is hoped that further examination of US708 may shed light on the phenomenon that shunted the star into its escape trajectory, as this Type la supernova is a vital astronomical marker used by scientists to determine the distances of far off galaxies.

Astronomers are able to use these distinctive supernovae as distance markers because they always throw off an identical amount of light. Scientists can then observe dimming in the known luminosity of this brilliant light source, and apply the inverse square law in order to ascertain how far away the supernova is, and also the galaxy to which it belongs.

"Several types of stars have been suspected of causing the explosion of a white dwarf as supernova of type Ia. Until now, none of them could be confirmed," says Stephan Geier, fellow of the European Southern Observatory and leader of the study. "Now we have found a delinquent on the run bearing traces from the crime scene."

Source: Queen's University Belfast

12 comments
Rick Moore
lets hope one doesn't head our way. we might not live to see it but our kids and or grand kids will. and that will be the end of earth and its species.
Jacob Shepley
so, in other words: the star was travelling at ~0.4% the speed of light. that's amazing
jjj
where is the star heading to?
Chris Goodwin
Steady on, Rick. Most unlikely our known descendents will be effected: and anyway, we have an appointment with Andromeda already, so we are all doomed, anyway. I stand ready to blame everything nasty on global warming, anyway. That comes first - unless all the "climate scientists" are wrong, which is most likely.
Martin L Hedington
Thank God its going the other way......
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Why do you falsely assume that our collision with the Andromed galaxy will doom us all? The cosmic mingling will only change the position of the solar system. It is not a game of billiards on a grand scale as you are tempted to think. The vast distances between stars will mean little will actually collide except for the highest concentrations of star clusters. Not only that, you also insert your amateur opinion on that climate science is most likely wrong. Leave it to the professionals doing actual science to tell you what is right, i.e. NASA, etc. You want to know what greenhouse gasses or a lack of it can do a to a planet? At one extreme end, you have Venus, a smoldering place. At the other end, Mars, a frigid place.
SilverBee
Good post, Freddy. And Martin, where did you get the info about the direction the star is heading? Anyway, hearing something new is one of the most exciting science--especially in astronomy.
Albert Feyen
I just have to ask how big is an "enormous white dwarf?" If it is a "dwarf star, can it be enormous? Either the classification of the star is wrong or someone needs to do better proof reading.
Lbrewer42
I agree with the concept of Andromeda collision not being like a billard game, but have to really wonder what all could happen. It would be an interesting concept for a programmer to use in making a simulation. But I doubt it could be done for lack of knowledge of what the galaxies contain. As to the Global warming - google "Game Over - IPCC Quietlly admits defeat." It is a done deal - its been a faslehood from the start with a political goal of promoting globalism. The IPCC is the UN's go to source for scientific data concerning AGW And the IPCC data for the last 15 years was compiled and proves there AGW has only happened in the minds of politicians and others who stand to make money from it. In fact the UN acknowledged there has been no AGW for at least the last 15 years, but this does not hit the headlines in any paper.
warmer
One thing that needs to be stated, in the astronomical sense 746MPS ISN'T very fast. It's a false sense of speed based on a human perspective. Our own solar system is traveling 143MPS around the milkway. This is like someone running a 4 minute mile being passed by a car doing 60mph. NOT that amazing.