In 1867, astronomers using the 40 cm Foucault telescope at the Paris Observatory, discovered three stars in the constellation Cygnus (now designated HD191765, HD192103 and HD192641), that displayed broad emission bands on an otherwise continuous spectrum. The astronomers’ names were Charles Wolf and Georges Rayet, and thus this category of stars became named Wolf–Rayet (WR) stars. Now using the Canadian MOST microsatellite, a team of researchers from the Universite de Montreal and the Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Quebec have made a stunning observation. They probed into the depth of the atmospheric eclipses in the Wolf-Rayet star, CV Serpentis, and observed a never before seen change of mass-loss rate.
Thanks to the service of MOST – Canada’s first space telescope and its high precision photometry – the team has observed significant changes in the depth of the atmospheric eclipses in the 30-day binary WR+O system. The equipment is aboard a suitcase-sized microsatellite (65 x 65 x 30 cm) which was launched in 2003 from a former ICBM in northern Russia. It is on a low-Earth polar orbit and has long outlived its original estimated life expectancy, offering Canadian astronomers almost eight years (and still counting) of ultra-high quality space-based data. Now this data gives us a huge insight into the heart of Wolf-Rayet stars.
Intrinsically luminous, WR stars can be massive or mid-sized, but the most interesting stage is arguably the last 10% in the lifetime of the star, when hydrogen fuel is used up and the star survives by much hotter He-burning. Towards the end of this phase, the copious supply of carbon atoms head for the stellar surface and are ejected in the form of stellar winds. WR stars in this stage are known as WC stars… and their production of carbon dust is one of the greatest mysteries of the Cosmos. These amorphous dust grains range in size from a few to millions of atoms and astronomers hypothesize their formation may requires high pressure and less than high temperatures.
“One key case is undoubtedly the sporadic dust-producing WC star in CV Ser. MOST was recently used to monitor CV Ser twice (2009 and 2010), revealing remarkable changes in the depths of the atmospheric eclipse that occurs every time the hot companion’s light is absorbed as it passes through the inner dense WC wind.” says the researchers. “The remarkable, unprecedented 70% change in the WC mass-loss rate might be connected to dust formation.”
And all thanks to the MOST tiny little satellite imaginable…
Original Story Source: AstroNews and excerpt from Wikipedia.