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Astronomers may have found the impossible – a star within a star

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Thorne-Żytkow Object (star within a star)

Seemingly impossible, the idea of a nested star has been proposed before – it’s just nobody has ever found an example of the cosmic oddity. That may be about to change though. Scientists are keeping the name of the star a secret right now – at least until their peers can validate their findings – but at this point they think they may have found a star within a star.

Called a Thorne-Żytkow Object, the idea was first proposed back in 1975 by physicists Kip Thorne, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and Anna Zytkow, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge. Discover magazine explained how the strange phenomena could be created:

“Although a neutron star is only ten miles or so across, its gravitational pull is so strong that it could draw matter away from its huge but more diffuse companion. In the process, it would slow down, like a ship dragging an anchor. Eventually the neutron star, in an ever-shrinking orbit, would plow into the outer layers of its neighbor. After a few thousand years it would spiral down into the star’s center, demolishing the existing stellar core but leaving the rest of the star essentially intact. A red giant that has been violated in this way has come to be called a Thorne-Zytkow object–even though no one has ever seen one.”

The discovery was reported on January 6, 2014 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society outside Washington DC. According to Nature Magazine, the oddity is located in:

“…the red supergiant star in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring galaxy to the Milky Way. The star is enriched in lithium, rubidium and molybdenum. Elevated amounts of these elements are thought to arise as by-products of Thorne-Zytkow objects, which have to burn through unusual nuclear fusion pathways.”

Sources: LiveScience, Nature Magazine, Discover Magazine