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Posted on Feb 08, 03:16PM | IBNS
Washington, Feb 8 : Two of NASA's great observatories, the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, have teamed up to uncover a mysterious infant star that behaves like a strobe light.
Every 25.34 days, the object, designated LRLL 54361, unleashes a burst of light. Although a similar phenomenon has been observed in two other young stellar objects, this is the most powerful such beacon seen to date.
The heart of the fireworks is hidden behind a dense disk and envelope of dust. Astronomers propose the light flashes are caused by periodic interactions between two newly formed stars that are binary, or gravitationally bound to each other.
LRLL 54361 offers insights into the early stages of star formation when lots of gas and dust is being rapidly accreted, or pulled together, to form a new binary star.
Astronomers theorize the flashes are caused by material suddenly being dumped onto the growing stars, known as protostars. A blast of radiation is unleashed each time the stars get close to each other in their orbits.
This phenomenon, called pulsed accretion, has been seen in later stages of star birth, but never in such a young system or with such intensity and regularity.
"This protostar has such large brightness variations with a precise period that it is very difficult to explain," said James Muzerolle of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. His paper recently was published in the science journal Nature.
Discovered by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, LRLL 54361 is a variable object inside the star-forming region IC 348, located 950 light-years from Earth.
Data from Spitzer revealed the presence of protostars. Based on statistical analysis, the two stars are estimated to be no more than a few hundred thousand years old.