Sunday, January 23, 2022

through the hourglass

This object is possibly the oldest of its kind ever cataloged: an hourglass-shaped remnant called CK Vulpeculae. Although initially thought to be a nova, correctly classifying this unusually shaped cosmic object has proved to be a challenge over the years. A number of possible explanations for its origin have already been considered and ruled out, and it is now thought to be the result of the collision of two stars — although it is still debated what kind of stars they are.

CK Vulpeculae was first observed on June 20, 1670 by the French monk and astronomer Friar Dom Anthelme. When it first appeared in the sky it was easily visible to the naked eye; over the next two years it varied in brightness, disappearing and appearing twice more, before finally disappearing from sight forever.

During the 20th century, astronomers understood that most novae could be explained by the explosive behavior and interaction of two nearby stars belonging to a binary system. The structures we see around CK Vulpeculae don't seem to fit this model very well, which has surprised astronomers for many years.

The central part of the rest has now been studied in great detail with the aid of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.(SOUL). This image shows the best image of this object ever taken and traces the cosmic dust and emission in and around CK Vulpeculae, thus revealing its intricate structure. CK Vulpeculae harbors a distorted dust disk at its center and jets of gas that indicate that there is some sort of central system that “pushes” the material outwards. These new observations are the first to explain this system, suggesting a solution to a 348-year-old mystery.

Credit:

ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO) / SPS Eyres

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