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Peculiar objects lurk in Tarantula Nebula
Posted: 28 March 2012

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PhD student Paul Dunstall of Queen’s University Belfast has identified a number of stellar objects that “shouldn’t exist” in the nearby Tarantula Nebula region of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Also known as 30 Dodarus (30 Dor), this region is well known as a site of active star formation. Dunstall’s research uses data from the VLT-FLAMES survey, a European Southern Observatory survey of over 900 stars in 30 Dor.

Paul Dunstall talks to Astronomy Now about "peculiar objects" he has identified in the Tarantula Nebula.

“My project was to search for binary stars, but I came across peculiar objects that caught my attention which I wanted to pursue further,” Dunstall told Astronomy Now during this week’s National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester. “The most unusual object is what we call a B[e] supergiant star, which is a massive star with a lot of dust and gas around it, but what is even more peculiar is that it exists in a binary star system. We have evidence of these supergiants and evidence of interacting binaries already, but this seems to be the first time we’ve got them together.”

Dunstall adds that these objects are “spewing matter everywhere” and constantly accreting matter onto each other making it difficult to decipher what is happening behind the thick veil of gas and dust, but the binary companion is likely even more massive than the B[e] supergiant.

Other peculiar objects identified in 30 Dor include blue supergiants that “shouldn’t exist” in a short period binary system, and a runaway star likely ejected from a binary system after its companion exploded as a supernova.

“I’m still finding more objects,” says Dunstall. “They really get you thinking and spark ideas amongst other people.”

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