Twin twinklers existing beyond the comforting borders of the Milky Way are a rare cosmic commodity, but an international team of scientists has located these luminous gems tucked into a neighboring galaxy 163,000 light-years away. The importance of this discovery lies in the fact that this is the first gamma-ray binary star system ever seen outside our own spiraling star region.
Compiling data discovered by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and other facilities worldwide, an all-star assembly of astronomers has found the first gamma-ray binary outside our local zip code in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and apparently it's one of the brightest ever viewed. Officially catalogued as LMC P3, this distant dual star system is comprised of a massive star matched with an ancient stellar core that flare together to produce an incredible cyclic flood of gamma rays, a high-energy form of electromagnetic radiation.
Check out this amazing extragalactic gamma-ray binary star in the instructional video below and tell us if you're dazzled beyond belief.
"Fermi has detected only five of these systems in our own galaxy, so finding one so luminous and distant is quite exciting," said lead researcher Robin Corbet at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "Gamma-ray binaries are prized because the gamma-ray output changes significantly during each orbit and sometimes over longer time scales. This variation lets us study many of the emission processes common to other gamma-ray sources in unique detail."
Circled in yellow in the image above, LMC P3 exists in a brilliant supernova remnant called DEM L241. Fermi is an orbiting space observatory launched by NASA in 2008 in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy and scientific partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden. Its mission is to provide an all-sky mapping platform from low-Earth orbit and help hunt down high-energy sources emitting intense gamma-ray bursts such as pulsars, neutron stars and supernova remnants.
"The optical observations show changes due to binary orbital motion, but because we don't know how the orbit is tilted into our line of sight, we can only estimate the individual masses," said team member Jay Strader, an astrophysicist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "The star is between 25 and 40 times the sun's mass, and if we're viewing the system at an angle midway between face-on and edge-on, which seems most likely, its companion is a neutron star about twice the sun's mass."