In biology, “symbiosis” refers to two organisms that live close to and interact with one another. There happens to also be a class of stars that co-exist in a similar way. Data from our Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, is helping us understand how volatile this close stellar relationship can be.
Located at a distance of about 710 light years from Earth, R Aquarii (R Aqr, for short) is one of the best known of the symbiotic stars. Changes in its brightness were first noticed with the naked eye almost a thousand years ago. Since then, astronomers have studied this object and determined that R Aqr is not one star, but two: a small, dense white dwarf and a cool red, giant star.
Since shortly after Chandra launched in 1999, astronomers began using the X-ray telescope to monitor the behavior of R Aqr, giving them a better understanding in more recent years. Chandra data reveal a jet of X-ray emission that extends to the upper left. The X-rays have likely been generated by shock waves, similar to sonic booms around supersonic planes, caused by the jet striking surrounding material.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. Montez et al.; Optical: Adam Block/Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter/U. Arizona
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