During many years working in Winfree Observatory at Randolph Macon Woman's College (now Randolph College) I made a number of astronomical observations not widely shared. I'll display a few of these here from time to time. Most of these astronomical events took place over the course of several hours, days, or years, and would escape those with short attention spans.
|Winfree Observatory at Randolph College|
|Location of SS Aurigae (click to enlarge)|
|The cross marks the center of mass|
In order to complete one orbit in 4 hours and 23 minutes the stars must be very close together. Their separation is only about 0.7 percent of the distance between the Sun and Earth! That's only 2.8 Earth-Moon distances apart! These stars orbit so closely the greater gravity of the more massive white dwarf pulls material away from the surface of the red dwarf. This material then spirals toward the white dwarf and forms a disk around the white dwarf before eventually falling onto the white dwarf's surface.
I was lucky enough to observe some of the stellar explosions produced by this system between the years 2001 and 2007 at Winfree Observatory. Here's a graphical display of my observations:
The vertical scale is an astronomer's (logarithmic) scale of brightness measured through a photometric green filter (also known as a visual, or V, filter). The smaller the magnitude, the brighter the star. The horizontal scale shows elapsed time, measured in days, running from July, 2001 to July, 2007. More than ten stellar explosions are shown on the graph above. Here's what one typical explosion looks like on images captured by Winfree Observatory's 14-inch telescope:
|Arrows locate the stellar explosion in SS Aurigae (click to enlarge)|
Here's the explosion again showing the brightness change that occurred in 19 days from April 15th to May 4th, 2004:
|The red arrow points to SS Aurigae|
The animation above may not seem like much of an explosion. We experience no sound, blasting wind, shaking ground, or burning radiation. That's because the explosion is 650 light years away through the vacuum of space! If we were closer it might look like this: