Astronomers capture best image of star surface, atmosphere

The image is first map of motion of material on a star other than the sun.
By Amy Wallace  |  Aug. 23, 2017 at 9:42 AM
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Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Astronomers from Chile used the ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, or VLTI, to map the surface and motion of the bright star Antares.

Antares shines with a strong, red tint in the center of the constellation of Scorpius and is on its way to becoming a supernova.

Astronomers at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile used the VLTI at the Paranal Observatory to map the surface and measure the motions of the surface, providing one of the best images and the first two-dimensional velocity map of a star other than the Sun.

"How stars like Antares lose mass so quickly in the final phase of their evolution has been a problem for over half a century," Keiichi Ohnaka, astronomer at Universidad Catolica del Norte, said in a press release. "The VLTI is the only facility that can directly measure the gas motions in the extended atmosphere of Antares -- a crucial step towards clarifying this problem.The next challenge is to identify what's driving the turbulent motions."

Astronomers were able to create a map of the relative speed of the atmospheric gas across the entire disc of Antares and found turbulent, low-density gas much further from the star than predicted.

They were able to conclude that the movement could not be the result from convection from large-scale movement of matter, which transfers energy from the core to the outer atmosphere of many stars.

"In the future, this observing technique can be applied to different types of stars to study their surfaces and atmospheres in unprecedented detail. This has been limited to just the Sun up to now," Ohnaka said. "Our work brings stellar astrophysics to a new dimension and opens an entirely new window to observe stars."

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