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When two stars collide (literally)

Using the Very Large Telescope, researchers have found two massive stars on a collision course with one another. When these two stars collide, the results promise to be out of this world.

"SN1994D" by NASA/ESA. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope recently made an astonishing discovery: two stars rapidly are seemingly on an inevitable collision course.

Currently, the stars are revolving around one another, but they look set to collide.

Scientists aren’t sure what will happen when the stars do collide, but they do know that the collision will be nothing short of dramatic. Among the most likely options, the stars will form into one massive star, or their combined gravity will force them to collapse into a black hole.

The collision could also result in a long-duration gamma-ray burst, which is one of the most powerful known releases of energy in the universe. These massive explosions usually occur when “super” stars meet the end of their life.

During a gamma-ray burst the constituent matter of the star is expelled away from two opposite ends, traveling nearly at the speed of light. The release of energy can last for several hours. As is common in the death of massive stars, a black hole is left behind.

It’s also possible that the stars actually won’t collide. Instead, they may continue revolving, and when the end of their life comes, they could go supernova and form a pair of revolving black holes.

Currently, the stars are a “mere” 7.5 million miles apart. That might seem like a lot by our Earthly standards, but in the intergalactic scheme of things, they’re practically touching. In fact, the two stars have even begun to overlap.

Combined, the two stars have a mass 57 times greater than that of our sun. The solar system the two stars are located in is referred to as VFTS 352.

While our solar system features only one star, solar systems with two or more stars are actually quite common. Most of the time, however, these stars fall into stable orbits, but VFTS 352 is an exception.