60-Second Science

A Star Is Flung

The star called HE 0437-5439 looks like it was tossed out of the Large Magellenic Cloud by a hypothesized black hole. Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Harvey Black.

Astronomers have discovered a star that’s running away from home. The star is speeding away at a blistering 2.6 million kilometers/hour, apparently after being cast out of a neighboring galaxy to us, the Large Magellenic Cloud—probably by a massive black hole. The speeding star is the first hint that there indeed may be a black hole in the LMC.

The astronomers, writing in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, reckon that the flung fugitive was sent on its way much like a sling shot propels a stone. They think it was part of a two-star or binary system. Its companion got sucked into the black hole and this one, known as HE 0437-5439, was tossed on its way.

The astronomers say that the star cannot be one of our own Milky Way buddies, because the elements composing it are in different amounts from those in the Milky Way. HE 0437 is not the only star fleeing the Milky Way, though. The researchers say there are nine others beating it away from our galaxy, but they say it’s clear that those are Milky Way natives.

—Steve Mirsky, with reporting by Harvey Black

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