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Clash of stars could end in explosion, black holes
Two young, massive stars are touching and scientists are anxiously watching to see what happens next. - photo by Natalie Crofts
GERMANY Two young, massive stars are touching and scientists are anxiously watching to see what happens next.

The double star system VFTS 352 was discovered using the European Southern Observatory's aptly named Very Large Telescope and it is hurtling towards a dramatic end, according to researchers. The observatorys announcement was titled the final kiss of two stars heading for catastrophe.

Finding overcontact binaries is rare due to the fact that the stars can only touch for a relatively short period of time. VFTS 352 is especially significant because it is believed to be the hottest and most massive double star ever identified. Together, the two stars have a mass that is about 57 times the mass of the sun, according to ESO.

Researchers estimate the stars are currently sharing about 30 percent of their materials through a bridge, but the easy borrowing might not last long. There are two possibilities for how VFTS 352 could meet its end: exploding or becoming a pair of black holes.

The explosion could happen if the two stars merge, which would create one gigantic rotating star, according to ESO.

If it keeps spinning rapidly, it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst, lead scientist Hugues Sana said in a statement.

It is also possible the stars could avoid merging and exploding if they remain compact and are mixed well enough, according to researchers.

This would lead the objects down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions, lead theoretical astrophysicist Selma de Mink said in a statement. In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes. Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.

VFTS 352 is located in an active nursery of new stars in the Tarantula Nebula, which is about 160,000 light-years away from Earth. The centers of the two stars are approximately 12 million kilometres from each other, according to ESO.

The findings of the study were published in the Astrophysical Journal on Oct. 21.