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What Can Make a Contact Binary Star Explode?

  • Tuesday, October 31, 2017
  • 3:45 PM–4:45 PM
  • Science Building 110

Professor Larry Molnar and students Evan Cook and Kenton Greene will report on their summer research

KIC 9832227 is a contact binary star system with an 11-hour orbital period (see Figure).  In 2014, we found its orbital period to be decreasing at an ever-increasing rate and suggested that by 2022 the system will spiral together, merge and consequently erupt as a luminous red nova.  Our suggestion was based on an analogy with the period changes of the system V1309 Sco prior to its 2008 outburst (found in data that were analyzed after the outburst).  In each year since, we have performed rigorous tests of this unique prediction with new timing and spectroscopic measurements.  Each test result to date has been affirmative.

 Having identified a system in this unique evolutionary stage gives us an opportunity to explore the (as yet unknown) physical mechanism that drives the period change in the final years before merger.  We are developing a new idea for this mechanism involving mass loss through a leaky chromosphere.  We will present two experimental tests that can be made of this idea with additional observations of KIC 9832227 and comparisons with other contact binary stars.

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