An eclipse of binary star systems which happens every 43 years looks spectacular in these data

21/05/2022
Credit image: NASA/CSC/SAO/STScI/Palomar Observatory/DSS/NSF/NRAO/VLA/LCO/IMACS/MMTF/Sankrit et al - This composite image of R Aquarii resembles a ring of fire over a black field, with a glowing purple “S” flowing through it
Credit image: NASA/CSC/SAO/STScI/Palomar Observatory/DSS/NSF/NRAO/VLA/LCO/IMACS/MMTF/Sankrit et al - This composite image of R Aquarii resembles a ring of fire over a black field, with a glowing purple “S” flowing through it

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 21 May 2022, at 10:17 am Los Angeles time

DLR/NASA's SOFIA telescope brings new data on frequent stardust after capturing an eclipse of a binary star system.

The eclipse produces in the constellation Aquarius, in a binary star system called R Aquarius when a white dwarf passed in front of the accompanying star. The phenomenon in this binary system is relatively rare, once every 43 years according to the US space agency.

The giant star in Aquarius is called by astronomers a variable Mira, due to its dramatic change in brightness.

It pulsates for a long time, causing a dust shell to form around it, which leads to a decrease in brightness.

In addition, data received by NASA over time show that the point of the orbit where the two stars are closest to each other (the periastron) occurs during their eclipse.

It is logical to deduce from this that during the eclipse, the two stars get closer and closer when they reach the nearest point during the eclipse, which means that the white dwarf can absorb a much larger amount of stellar dust on which the giant star emanates.

Preliminary observations began in 2016, and Sofia began observing the beginnings of the eclipse in 2018, when it began, with the periastron estimated to take place in 2023.

NASA will make observations with the SOFIA telescope until the date on which it decided to shut it down (Sept. 30, 2022).

Until then, the flow of dust can be deduced in the middle of the infrared wavelength, and the SOFIA infrared camera, FORCAST, has the right angular resolution to watch, according to NASA.

After these discoveries and possible future discoveries, astronomers and scientists will be able to find the balance between the amount of dust emitted by the giant star and that absorbed by the white dwarf.

"It's an opportunity to see it in a unique way, because the material that's being accreted isn't obscured by the Mira, it's right out in front," added Steven Goldman, a scientist with Universities Space Research Association, based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. Goldman is a co-author on the paper, which looks at how the onset of the eclipse is beginning to affect the dust surrounding the system.

"Binarity, winds, jet formation, mass loss, and accretion are fundamental astrophysics," Sankrit said. "So, the real excitement here is that you're getting something that is on a human timescale probing very fundamental aspects of astrophysics."