NASA discovered “pumpkin stars” just in time for Halloween
Using observations from NASA’s Kepler and Swift missions, astronomers have discovered “pumpkin stars” – because the universe is clearly as excited about Halloween as we are. Specifically, NASA missions have harvested a passel of pumpkin stars that spin so incredibly fast, they’ve been flattened into shapes that look like actual pumpkins.
But chances are, you won’t be able to carve faces into or make pie out of these pumpkins.
For four years, NASA monitored a huge patch of the sky, specifically looking for brightness changes caused by exoplanets passing in front of their host stars. Because the Kepler field of view has been intricately studied, researchers used NASA’s Swift to search for X-ray sources Kepler may have seen.
Astronomers ended up finding what they were looking for and it exceeded their own expectations.
The rare, pumpkin-like stars produce intense X-ray emissions at more than 100 times the peak levels astronomers have seen from the sun.
"These 18 stars rotate in just a few days on average, while the sun takes nearly a month," said Steve Howell, a senior research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The rapid rotation amplifies the same kind of activity we see on the sun, such as sunspots and solar flares, and essentially sends it into overdrive."
The most extreme-spinning pumpkin star is the KSw 71, which is 10 times the sun’s size and spins four times faster (the sun being on a once-ever- 25-days rotation). Because of this, it produces 4,000 times the sun’s peak X-ray emission.
As for the pumpkin shape, it could be the result of close binary systems where two sun-like stars orbit faster as they grow closer, eventually merge together, and form the pumpkin star, according to NASA.
The transition might take 100 million years, which obviously sounds like a crazy amount of time. But 100 million years is a relatively brief phase in a star’s life.
The Swift study also found 93 X-ray objects — half being active galaxies and the rest being various types of X-ray emitting stars.
Check out NASA’s video for more cosmic info:
All of this basically means that we are tiny, you guys. Teeny tiny specs on a rotating axis. And the universe is full of complex wonders that are ever-changing.