Feeds

Boffins: VAMPIRE stars are PREYING on their companions

What's a scientist doing watching True Blood?

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Astroboffins peering through the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope have figured out that most of the brightest stars in the universe are constantly having the life sucked out of them by vampire stars.

A vampire star and its victim

In the heart of Transylvan-ia, In the Vampire Hall of Fame-yeah... Credit: ESA/NASA/L. Calcada (ESO)/S.E. de Mink (STScl)

Just like all vampires, these suns are only interested in sucking on the hottest stars, the high-mass ones that drive the evolution of galaxies. While scientists already knew that vampire stars were out there, they hadn't realised how many pairs of companion stars were hiding one life-draining one.

Nearly three-quarters of the brightest stars, known as O stars, have a close companion star and most of these are a vampire and its unwitting victim, with mass flowing from one to the other. According to the researchers, a third of these pairs are eventually expected to merge as the vampire consumes the last of its hapless friend.

In general, even if they aren't going to get sucked up by a vampire, O stars tend to live short violent lives of gamma-ray bursts and galaxy evolution. The winds and shocks coming from them can both trigger or end star formation, their radiation powers the glow of bright nebulae and their supernovae spray out the heavy elements crucial for life.

"These stars are absolute behemoths," said Hugues Sana of the University of Amsterdam, lead author of the study. "They have 15 or more times the mass of our Sun and can be up to a million times brighter. These stars are so hot that they shine with a brilliant blue-white light and have surface temperatures over 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit."

The astroboffins' observations give the first precise determination of how many O stars are going through life with a pal and the high number of these companions that are life-sucking vampires has a huge effect on how scientists see the universe.

For example, as the vampire steals the fresh hydrogen from the O star, it will grow as its companion weakens. The vampire's feeding stops the bright star from becoming a red supergiant, instead its blue core is left behind. That core mimics the appearance of younger stars and could fool the observer into thinking a distant galaxy is younger than it is.

"The only information astronomers have on distant galaxies is from the light that reaches our telescopes. Without making assumptions about what is responsible for this light we cannot draw conclusions about the galaxy, such as how massive or how young it is. This study shows that the frequent assumption that most stars are single can lead to the wrong conclusions," Sana said.

Binary Interaction Dominates the Evolution of Massive Stars was published in Science. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.