Cosmic gun

How does it fire?

Published: Saturday 15 January 2005

astrophysicists from Kolkata-based S N Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences and Centre for Space Physics (affiliated to the University of Calcutta) have finally found an explanation for the unusual behaviour of a star 3,000 parsecs (1 parsec equals 3.26 light years) away. Named ss 433, the star ejects matter every minute like a gun firing bullets -- each as bulky as one ten-thousandth of earth's mass and escaping into space with one fourth the speed of light.

Ever since ss 433's discovery 25 years ago, the scientists have wondered where the matter for the "bullets" was coming from. They have now found ss 433 sucks in matter from a companion star. " ss 433 lies at the heart of a supernova remnant called w 50, a leftover of an exploded star that emits radiation and matter. The expanding debris of w 50 is adding to its (ss433) bullet firing nature. It emits radio waves and infrared radiation as well as life-producing elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen," says lead researcher Sandip Chakrabarti.

The discovery follows an analysis of recent satellite data. "The star showed a flare of x -ray emissions which was twice the emissions observed last year," says Chakrabarti. The next increase in flare is expected at the end of January.

The scientists say ss 433 is a part of a binary (two star) system 100,000 years old. And it will last another 50,000 years. In a paper soon to be published in the Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society , Chakraborti predicts the binary system will shortly evolve into a black hole. The black hole will have a mass of 3 solar mass (three times the mass of sun), he adds.

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