In the boundless theatre of the universe, stars are not mere points of light, but dynamic and vibrant entities.
Picture this: a star system, known as MACHO 80.7443.1718, where the celestial dance of two stars creates a spectacle that is nothing short of poetic.
This system is a heartbeat star, a binary system where two stars orbit each other with drastically variable distances between them. They are named for their pulsating brightness, akin to the rhythmic beating of a heart on an electrocardiogram.
As the smaller star in this system swings closer to its larger companion, which is about 35 times the mass of our Sun, it sets off tidal waves of ultra-hot matter that roll across the larger star. These waves are monumental, reaching heights of 4.3 million kilometers—taller than three of our Suns stacked atop one another. It’s a cosmic ballet, choreographed by the forces of gravity.
Imagine the energy these waves must carry. "Each crash of the star's towering tidal waves releases enough energy to disintegrate our entire planet several hundred times over," says astrophysicist Morgan MacLeod. These aren’t just waves; they are tsunamis of cosmic proportions.
These waves are not mere curiosities; they are keys to understanding the stars themselves. They are produced by the gravitational push and pull as the stars dance closer and farther apart, akin to how our Moon’s gravity generates tides on Earth. This energetic performance even impacts the rotation speed of the stars, adding another layer to their intricate dance.
This 'heartbreak' star, as the researchers have affectionately named it due to the massive waves breaking on its surface, could be the pioneer of a new class of astronomical objects. As MacLeod puts it, "We're already planning a search for more heartbreak stars, looking for the glowing atmospheres flung off by their breaking waves."
MacLeod, M., Loeb, A. Breaking waves on the surface of the heartbeat star MACHO 80.7443.1718. Nat Astron (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-023-02036-3