If you’re not interested in the Rio Olympics and wrestling (the non-Olympic kind) is too fake for you (sorry, fans), here’s a battle that truly should be called the Universal Cup. Astronomers have discovered a fight between a white dwarf star and the red dwarf it is in orbit with that includes frequent attacks, hot action and punches packing the power of radiation. Do the Vegas odds-makers have a line on this yet?
This galactic battle was first discovered in May 2015 by amateur astronomers in Europe who noticed unusual activity in the binary star system AR Scorpii (AR Sco) in the constellation of Scorpius, 380 light-years from Earth. Specifically, the system was pulsing brightly every 2 minutes across virtually the entire electromagnetic spectrum. They notified astronomers at the University of Warwick, who used a number of telescopes worldwide to figure out what was causing the pulses.
According to their study published in the current issue of Nature, AR Sco consists of a white dwarf (a small, dense star that has exhausted its fuel) and a red dwarf (a small, cool low-mass star) orbiting each other once every 3.1 hours. While it was discovered in the 1970s, astronomers did not notice the pulsing until their amateur counterparts pointed it out.
Every 1.97 minutes, the white dwarf accelerate electrons until they release a radiation beam directly at its orbital partner, causing the system to light up and fade out while emitting radio frequencies never seen coming out of a white dwarf. Stellar indigestion? That guess is as good as any, according to study co-author Boris Gänsicke.
We’ve known pulsing neutron stars for nearly fifty years, and some theories predicted white dwarfs could show similar behavior. It’s very exciting that we have discovered such a system, and it has been a fantastic example of amateur astronomers and academics working together.
The fight raging in AR Scorpii is unique and the source of these high-energy electrons in what is essentially a dead star is currently a mystery.
Like boxing, a fight of this magnitude needs an exciting name. How about one of these? Rodeo in Scorpio! Intensify in Scorpii! Red, White and Kablooey!
Whatever you call it, it beats rhythmic gymnastics (sorry, fans).