Featured Image: Orbiting Stars Share an Envelope


This beautiful series of snapshots from a simulation (click for a better look!) shows what happens when two stars in a binary system become enclosed in the same stellar envelope. In this binary system, one of the stars has exhausted its hydrogen fuel and become a red giant, complete with an expanding stellar envelope composed of hydrogen and helium. Eventually, the envelope expands so much that the companion star falls into it, where it releases gravitational potential energy into the common envelope. A team led by Sebastian Ohlmann (Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies and University of Würzburg) recently performed hydrodynamic simulations of this process. Ohlmann and collaborators discovered that the energy release eventually triggers large-scale flow instabilities, which leads to turbulence within the envelope. This process has important consequences for how these systems next evolve (for instance, determining whether or not a supernova occurs!). You can check out the authors’ video of their simulated stellar inspiral below, or see their paper for more images and results from their study.


Sebastian T. Ohlmann et al 2016 ApJ 816 L9. doi:10.3847/2041-8205/816/1/L9