First images of molecules around a born-again star

An international team of astronomers with participation of Stefan Kimeswenger from the Institute for Astro- and Particle Physics, succeeded for the first time in observing the formation of carbon-rich molecules in the vicinity of a born-again star. This prompted the European Southern Observatory ESO to write an extensive blog on this topic.

In 1919, in the journal Astronomische Nachrichten, the German astronomer Max Wolf described what he believed to be a dying star in the process of a violent explosion. The star, V605 Aquilae (the 605th variable star discovered in Aquarius), flared up in a burst of activity. However, V605 Aquilae had an unusual appearance. It flickered and seemed sometimes brighter and sometimes darker. In 1923 the object finally disappeared for the observers. Completely independently of this, a so-called planetary nebula was discovered at this position in the 1960s. These arise when stars, such as our sun, die after passing through the giant stage. Due to its size, however, this nebula must have originated from an event a few thousand years ago. It wasn't until the 1980s that astronomers came up with a possible explanation for V605 Aquilae: they proposed that the star was "born again" and is now undergoing a second life.

So far, only one other example is known in the recent history of astronomy and astrophysics - Sakurai's star V4334 Sagittarii.

The team of astrophysicists in Innsbruck has been studying these two stars since the early 1990s. For the first modelling of the formation of dust, the prize for scientific research of the capital of federal state Innsbruck was awarded to A.o. Prof. Dr. Stefan Kimeswenger. In the publications at that time, it was already indicated that the development of precursors of organic molecules would have to take place there. Due to the extremely high carbon content, almost 100 times higher than is normally found in cosmic gas, these objects are pronounced birth zones for such processes.

With the technical possibilities of that time, however, the deep insight into these areas of reactions was hidden exactly by this dense dust.

With the help of the antennas of the ALMA microwave radio interferometer in Chile, an international team of scientists from Sweden, Mexico, Spain and Belgium, with the participation of Innsbruck-based A.o. Univ. Prof. Stefan Kimeswenger, to look inside this cloud of dust and to detect the molecules that are formed.

This work, which was published in the renowned international journal Astrophysical Journal Letters at the end of January, prompted the European Southern Observatory, which is a shareholder in the ALMA facilities, to prepare a very detailed blog with a detailed description of the history of the "rebirths" for the public. 


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