Astronomers looking through European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope saw something incredible yet extremely rare: a two stars merging.
However, the merging process should be short-lived. The agency wrote in a release that the two stars are “heading for catastrophe.”
The ESO said they’re “the hottest and most massive double star with components so close that they touch each other” before adding that “such a system is very rare because this phase in the life of the stars is short, making it difficult to catch them in the act.”
Astronomers that the two stars, dubbed VFTS 352, will probably eventually explode.
“If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst,” said the lead scientist of the project, Hugues Sana, of the University of Leuven in Belgium, according to the release.
Added Selma de Mink, from the University of Amsterdam: “If the stars are mixed well enough, they both remain compact and the VFTS 352 system may avoid merging.
“This would lead the objects down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions. In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes. Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.”
In most examples of twin stars, one is usually larger than the other. Due to chance, the scientists said that VFTS 352 is a rare instance where the stars are the same size.
The double star system is located about 160,000 light-years away from Earth, located in the Tarantula Nebula.