Clashing Winds

  • Released Thursday, November 6th, 2014
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:50PM
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A star cluster located about 4,700 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus holds some of the galaxy’s rarest suns. Of some 3,000 stars in the group, about 100 are classified as type O. These massive suns shine so hot and bright they drive their own surface gases outward at high speed in powerful outflows called stellar winds. Two of these stars circle each other tightly, forming the binary system known as Cygnus OB2 #9. Scientists long suspected that the winds from these stars collided, but never had direct evidence of this interaction. In June 2011, scientists made a breakthrough discovery. Using NASA’s Swift satellite and other space telescopes, they observed a sharp rise in X-rays coming from the system as the stars raced toward their closest approach. It turns out the X-ray increase was tied to their colliding winds, crashing together at speeds of millions of miles per hour. Watch the video to learn more.

This illustration shows the highly eccentric orbits of the two stars found in Cygnus OB2 #9.

This illustration shows the highly eccentric orbits of the two stars found in Cygnus OB2 #9.

Space telescopes monitored X-ray emissions (orange) from Cygnus OB2 #9 in the months leading up to the stars' closest approach.

Space telescopes monitored X-ray emissions (orange) from Cygnus OB2 #9 in the months leading up to the stars' closest approach.

Around closest approach, when the stars were separated by less than three times Earth's average distance from the sun, X-ray emissions peaked.

Around closest approach, when the stars were separated by less than three times Earth's average distance from the sun, X-ray emissions peaked.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA/C. Reed
X-ray images courtesy of NASA/GSFC/S. Immler