Astronomers have discovered for the first time ever how intense light from stars can push matter.
Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Sydney made the observation when tracking a giant plume of dust generated by the violent interactions between two massive stars.
The results, made using infrared images of the binary star system WR140 taken over 16 years, are reported in the journal Nature.
In a complementary study of WR140, published in Nature Astronomy, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was able to see much deeper to snap an image of not just a single accelerating dust plume, but almost 20 of them, nested inside each other like a giant set of onion skins.
The finding could help researchers understand how light sculpts matter throughout the cosmos.
Shells of dust form when winds from these two stars (center) in the Cygnus constellation collide.
The revelation came from comparing the positions of concentric dust shells year to year and deducing a speed. The researchers’ calculations show that the force accelerating the dust is the pressure exerted by light radiated from the stars, says Han, of the University of Cambridge. “Radiation pressure [becomes apparent] only when we put all the images next to each other.”
Astronomers keep on making new discoveries.
Space exploration has brought us insights into such phenomena as gravity, the magnetosphere, the atmosphere, fluid dynamics and the geological evolution of other planets.
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