Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rare Ultra-Blue Stars Found in Neighboring Galaxy's Hub: Peering Deep Inside Hub of Neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Has Uncovered Large, Rare Population of Hot, Bright Stars.

""Blue is typically an indicator of hot, young stars. In this case, however, the stellar oddities are aging, sun-like stars that have prematurely cast off their outer layers of material, exposing their extremely blue-hot cores.

Astronomers were surprised when they spotted these stars because physical models show that only an unusual type of old star can be as hot and as bright in ultraviolet light.

While Hubble has spied these ultra-blue stars before in Andromeda, the new observation covers a much broader area, revealing that these stellar misfits are scattered throughout the galaxy's bustling center. Astronomers used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to find roughly 8,000 of the ultra-blue stars in a stellar census made in ultraviolet light, which traces the glow of the hottest stars. The study is part of the multi-year Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury survey to map stellar populations across the galaxy.

"We were not looking for these stars. They stood out because they were bright in ultraviolet light and very different from the stars we expected to see," said Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington in Seattle, leader of the Hubble survey.""

The team's results are being presented today at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. A paper describing the finding will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The telescope spied the stars within 2,600 light-years of the core. After analyzing the stars for nearly a year, Dalcanton's team determined that they were well past their prime. "The stars are dimmer and have a range of surface temperatures different from the extremely bright stars we see in the star-forming regions of Andromeda," said Phil Rosenfield of the University of Washington, the paper's lead author.

As these stars evolved, puffing up to become red giants, they ejected most of their outer layers to expose their blue-hot cores. When normal sun-like stars swell up to become red giants, they lose much less material and therefore never look as bright in the ultraviolet.

"We caught these stars when they're the brightest, just before they become white dwarfs," said team member Leo Girardi of the National Institute for Astrophysics's Astronomical Observatory of Padua. "It is likely that there are many other similarly hot stars in this central part of Andromeda at earlier stages of their lives. But such stars are too dim for Hubble to see because they're mixed in with a crowd of normal stars."""

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