Powerful Solar Winds Colliding Head On

Article Updated: 29 Mar , 2013

Position of HD 5980. Image credit: ESAOff to one corner of NGC 346, a star cluster in the Small Magellanic Cloud, there’s an amazing collision between two stars. Well, not the stars themselves, but the powerful winds they’re ejecting.

The two stars are collectively known as HD 5980. They’re a binary system of stars separated by only 90 million kilometres; this is roughly half the distance from the Earth to the Sun. One star has 50 times the mass of the Sun, while the other weighs in at 30 times the mass of the Sun. And both are radiating more than a million times the energy of the Sun. It’s good to know they’re a whole galaxy away from us.

And both stars are producing terrifyingly strong solar winds, each dumping the mass of the Earth into space every month, and then accelerating this mass away with the pressure from all the photons they’re emitting. Since the stars are so close to each other, their solar winds interact. And where those solar winds collide… look out.

New images from ESA’s XMM-Newton Observatory measured the X-ray output from this collision zone, and found that the energy from only X-rays is 10 times the amount of energy output by our own Sun. By studying the interaction between the winds, astronomers will be able to calculate how they change over time.

Original Source: ESA News Release

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