An European Space Agency (ESA) telescope has captured extreme outburst in a star which astronomers believe was caused by the star trying to eat another star, much larger in size.

ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory has watched a faint star flare up at X-ray wavelengths to almost 10 000 times its normal brightness, ESA said in a statement.

According to ESA scientists, the flare took place on a neutron star, which is formed when a giant star collapse during supernova explosion.

About 10 km in diameter, a neutron star is so dense that it generates a strong gravitational field intense enough to pull a clump of matter emitted by giant stars.

The clump of matter, which the neutron star tried to ingest in the outburst, came from a massive blue supergiant companion star, and was much larger than the neutron star, about 16 million km across, or about 100 billion times the volume of the Moon, researchers said.

“The flare lasted four hours and the X-rays came from the gas in the clump as it was heated to millions of degrees while being pulled into the neutron star’s intense gravity field,” they said, adding that the clump was so big that not much of it hit the neutron star.

Scientists estimate that an X-ray flare of this magnitude can be expected a few times a year and they were extremely lucky to get the observations, which will probably help astronomers understand the behavior of the blue supergiant and the way it emits matter into space.


A clump of matter from a massive blue supergiant star (Left) is being pulled by an intense gravitational field of a neutron star (Right). PHOTO: ESA/AOES Medialab

An artist's impression of XMM-Newton. Credits: ESA-C. Carreau

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