A weird type of â€˜hybridâ€™ star has been discovered nearly 40 years since it was first theorized â€” but until now has been curiously difficult to find.
In 1975, renowned astrophysicists Kip Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif., and Anna Å»ytkow, of the University of Cambridge, UK, assembled a theory on how a large dying star could swallow its neutron star binary partner, thus becoming a very rare type of stellar hybrid, nicknamed a Thorne-Å»ytkow object (or TÅ»O). The neutron star â€” a dense husk of degenerate matter that was once a massive star long since gone supernova â€” would spiral into the red supergiantâ€™s core, interrupting normal fusion processes.
According to the Thorne-Å»ytkow theory, after the two objects have merged, an excess of the elements rubidium, lithium and molybdenum will be generated by the hybrid. So astronomers have been on the lookout for stars in our galaxy, which is thought to contain only a few dozen of these objects at any one time, with this specific chemical signature in their atmospheres.
Now, according to Emily Levesque of the University of Colorado Boulder and her team, a bona fide TÅ»O has been discovered and their findings have been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.
â€œStudying these objects is exciting because it represents a completely new model of how stellar interiors can work,â€ said Levesque. â€œIn these interiors we also have a new way of producing heavy elements in our universe. Youâ€™ve heard that everything is made of â€˜star stuffâ€™â€”inside these stars we might now have a new way to make some of it.â€