Friday, May 6, 2011

"Spinstars" may have helped seed the universe, 05.02.11

NGC 6522. Image credit: Anglo-Australian Observatory and David Malin. 
Astrophysicists have theorized a new type of star that they claim may have helped seed our galaxy with heavier elements. Called "spinstars," they are thought to have been super-massive stars that spun in excess of one million miles per hour.

Using data recently gathered from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory in the mountains of Chile, astrophysicist Cristina Chiappini and her colleagues have gathered data from NGC 6522, a globular cluster, and theorized that the spinstars would explain the rapid and widespread dispersal of heavier elements in the universe. The layers of stars hardly ever mix together, but the extreme rotation speeds of a spinstar would cause the layers to overlap and blend a little, like a stellar emulsion, and spark nuclear reactions that would eventually cause the formation of heavy elements strontium and yttrium, rare elements that have been found at perplexingly high levels in older stars Chiappini studied.

For comparison, reminds us that our own star, the sun, rotates at only about 4,400 miles per hour--fast by any stretch of the imagination, but a snail's pace compared to the proposed spinstars.

It is a pity no spinstars have been found to date, either. They would probably look quite strange. The centrifugal force from rotating so quickly actually causes objects in space to flatten out in the center. Even our own sun is a little chubby in the middle because of its rotation speed.
Altair. Image credit:

Take this star, Altair, for example, a star that spins a good deal faster than our sun. As fast as Altair spins, an actual spinstar would probably look even more obscured, like a football, or maybe even just a rounded disc with a lump in the center.

Chiappini says she and her team have already reserved more research time to use the VLT, gather more data and, hopefully, evidence to help test their theories.


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