South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope makes a groundbreaking discovery

Date:18 December 2019 Author: Kyro Mitchell Tags:, , ,

Located in Northern Cape, South Africa, the MeerKAT radio telescope has discovered a unprecedented flare of radio emission from a binary star in our galaxy. The star first caught the attention of researchers when it rapidly brightened by a factor of more than three over a period of three weeks.

When an object suddenly appears and disappears, or becomes brighter or fainter over a certain period of time, astronomers call this event ‘transient’. Transients are of particular interest to scientists because they provide a glimpse into the life of a star. How they live, evolve, and eventually burn out.

While scientists are still left baffled as to what exactly caused the unexpected flaring from this binary star, it is believed to be associated with the hottest outermost part of the star, or corona, as its known in the scientific community.

By using the MeerKAT telescope, along with an assortment of telescopes from around the world, researchers determined that the source of the flare is a binary system, where two objects orbit each other approximately every 22 days. The star emitting this strange fluctuation in lights is located in the Southern constellation of Ara and was found to be coincident with a giant star about two times as massive as the Sun.

While speaking to Science Daily, Laura Driessen, a PhD student from The University of Manchester who led this project said: “This source was discovered just a couple of weeks after I joined the team, it was amazing that the first MeerKAT images I worked on had such an interesting source in them. Once we found out that the radio flares coincided with a star, we discovered that the star emits across almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum from X-ray to UV to radio wavelengths.”

“Since the inauguration in July 2018 of the South African MeerKAT radio telescope, the ThunderKAT project on MeerKAT has been monitoring parts of the southern skies to study the variable radio emission from known compact binary stars, such as accreting black holes” said Patrick Woudt, Professor and Head of the Astronomy Department at The University of Cape Town.

Feature image: Twitter/SARAO

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