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Beyond Earthly Skies

Hypervelocity Stellar Collisions

5 May 2013, 01:07 UTC
Hypervelocity Stellar Collisions
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Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) contain hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our Sun. They are known to reside in the centres of most, if not all galaxies. When a binary star comes too close to a SMBH, the intense gravitational field of the SMBH can disrupt the binary system by yanking apart the two stars. When that happens, one star tends to get captured into a tight orbit around the SMBH while the other star gets ejected away with a very high velocity. It is estimated that a typical SMBH disrupts a binary star system once every 10,000 to 100,000 years. Over a period of time, the SMBH builds up a population of stars in tightly bound orbits around it. Being so close to a SMBH, these stars can travel at velocities exceeding 10,000 kilometres per second.Figure 1: Artist’s conception of a binary star system.Occasionally, two stars can cross path with each other at sufficiently high velocities to produce a hypervelocity stellar collision. The collision can occur as an energetic head-on collision or a less energetic grazing collision. When two stars collide at such high speeds, a very powerful explosion is produced. The explosion brightens over ...

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