CHANDRA Image of HD 5980
Credit: Y. Nazé et al., 2002, The Astrophysical Journal, vol 580, p. 225

A Collision of Winds

Very massive stars are so bright stellar matter is driven off the star's surface to form a strong wind which blows out into space. These stars are often found in binary systems, bound by gravity to another star, which often possess a strong stellar wind of its own. In these cases the winds will collide in the space between the two stars, forming a region of shocked, extremely hot gas. This gas is so hot that it emits large amounts of X-rays. The Chandra X-ray Observatory has recently taken a picture of a rather unusual massive binary system, the HD5980 system in the Small Magellanic Cloud. HD 5980 is composed of two stars in a 19 day elliptical orbit, and is unusual since one of the stars underwent a large eruption, a transient ejection of matter in 1994. The Chandra image, shown above, shows HD 5980 as a bright, hot source of X-rays produced by the collision of the stellars winds; the star is surrounded by a cooler reddish X-ray nebula that's believed to be the remains of a star in front of HD 5980 which exploded in the distant past. Astronomers can use the X-ray emission from the shocked winds to probe the wind and stellar properties of these rare but important class of stars.

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Last modified December 29, 2002