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Can Stars Collide?

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Published on Dec 16, 2013

Imagine a really bad day. Perhaps you're imagining a day where the Sun crashes into another star, destroying most of the Solar System.

No? Well then, even in your imagination things aren't so bad... It's all just matter of perspective. Fortunately for us, we live in out the boring suburbs of the Milky Way. Out here, distances between stars are so vast that collisions are incredibly rare.

There are places in the Milky Way where stars are crowded more densely, like globular clusters, and we get to see the aftermath of these collisions. These clusters are ancient spherical structures that can contain hundreds of thousands of stars, all of which formed together, shortly after the Big Bang.

Within one of these clusters, stars average about a light year apart, and at their core, they can get as close to one another as the radius of our Solar System.

With all these stars buzzing around for billions of years, you can imagine they've gotten up to some serious mischief. Within globular clusters there are these mysterious blue straggler stars. They're large hot stars, and if they had formed with the rest of the cluster, they would have detonated as supernovae billions of years ago.

So scientists figure that they must have formed recently. How?

"Hi, I'm Professor Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles in the Department of Physics and Astronomy."

Astronomers think they're the result of a stellar collision. Perhaps a binary pair of stars merged, or maybe two stars smashed into one another.

"When you see two stars colliding with each other, it depends on how fast they're moving. If they're moving at speeds like we see at the center of our galaxy, then the collision is extremely violent. If it's a head-on collision, the stars get completely splashed to the far corners of the galaxy. If they're merging at slower velocities than we see at our neck of the woods in our galaxy, then stars are more happy to merge with us and coalesce into one single, more massive object."

There's another place in the Milky Way where you've got a dense collection of stars, racing around at breakneck speeds... near the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. This monster black hole contains the mass of 4 million times the Sun, and dominates the region around the center of the Milky Way.
Stars whip around it, like comets dart around our Sun, and interactions are commonplace.
There's another scenario that can crash stars together. The Milky Way mostly has multiple star systems. Several stars can be orbiting a common center of gravity. Many are great distances, but some can have orbits tighter than the planets around our Sun.

When one star reaches the end of its life, expanding into a red giant, It can consume its binary partner. The consumed star then strips away 90% of the mass of the red giant, leaving behind a rapidly pulsating remnant.

What about when galaxies collide? That sounds like a recipe for mayhem.
Surprisingly, not so much.

Read more at http://www.universetoday.com/107244/c...
Thanks to Professor Mark Morris at UCLA - visit the Physics and Astronomy program homepage at http://www.pa.ucla.edu/.

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