ESA Astronomers Just Revealed The BEST Ever Image of a Star in Another Solar System

An international team of
astronomers from Chile and Germany has managed to capture an image of
unprecedented detail of another star — that isn’t the Sun — the red supergiant
star Antares. The team has also made the first map of the velocities of
material in the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun, revealing unexpected
turbulence in the extended atmosphere of Antares.

Image description: This artist’s impression shows the red supergiant star Antares. Image credit: M. Kornmesser / ESO.

Antares, also designated
Alpha Scorpii, is a well-studied, close red supergiant star at a distance of
554 light years. It is the fifteenth-brightest star in the night sky and the
brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius. With a diameter about 700
times that of the Sun and a mass about 12 times solar, Antares is one of
largest stars.

This is the most detailed image ever of the red supergiant star Antares, or any other star apart from the Sun. Image credit: K. Ohnaka / ESO.


It is thought that Antares
started life with a mass more like 15 times that of the Sun, and has shed three
solar-masses of material during its life. To directly see the gas motions in
its atmosphere, Dr. Keiichi Ohnaka of the Universidad Católica del Norte in
Chile and co-authors observed Antares with ESO’s Very Large TelescopeInterferometer (VLTI) located on Cerro Paranal in Chile.

“How stars like Antares lose
mass so quickly in the final phase of their evolution has been a problem for
over half a century,” Dr. Ohnaka said.

“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.”

The astronomers created the
first two-dimensional velocity map of the atmosphere of a star other than the
Sun. They did this using the VLTI with three of the Auxiliary Telescopes and an
instrument called AMBER to make separate images of the surface of Antares over
a small range of infrared wavelengths.

They then used these data to
calculate the difference between the speed of the atmospheric gas at different
positions on the star and the average speed over the entire star. This resulted
in a map of the relative speed of the atmospheric gas across the entire disc of
Antares — the first ever created for a star other than the Sun.

“We found turbulent, low-density gas much
further from the star than predicted,” the authors said.

“The movement could not
result from convection, that is, from large-scale movement of matter which
transfers energy from the core to the outer atmosphere of many stars.”

“A new, currently unknown,
process may be needed to explain these movements in the extended atmospheres of
red supergiants like Antares.”