Unraveling a Spiral Stream of Dusty Embers from a Massive Binary Stellar Forge

Sequence of 7 mid-IR (~10 micrometers) images of WR 112 taken between 2001 – 2019 by Gemini North, Gemini South, Keck, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Subaru Telescope. The length of the white line on each image corresponds to about 6800 astronomical units. (Crredit: Lau et al.)

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With almost two decades of mid-infrared (IR) imaging from the largest observatories around the world including the Subaru Telescope, a team of astronomers was able to capture the spiral motion of newly formed dust streaming from the massive and evolved binary star system Wolf-Rayet (WR) 112. Massive binary star systems, as well as supernova explosions, are regarded as sources of dust in the Universe from its early history, but the process of dust production and the amount of the ejected dust are still open questions. WR 112 is a binary system composed of a massive star in the very late stage of stellar evolution losing a large amount of mass and another massive star at the main sequence. Dust is expected to be formed in the region where stellar winds from these two stars are colliding. The study reveals the motion of the dusty outflow from the system and identifies WR 112 as a highly efficient dust factory that produces an entire Earth mass of dust every year.

These results appeared as R. M. Lau et al. “Resolving Decades of Periodic Spirals from the Wolf-Rayet Dust Factory WR 112” in The Astrophysical Journal on September 15, 2020.

Unraveling a Spiral Stream of Dusty Embers from a Massive Binary Stellar Forge (Credit: NAOJ/ISAS)

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