SAAO helps to reveal the origins of fundamental structures in the wind of the supergiant star Zeta Puppis

A Canadian-led international team of astronomers recently discovered for the first time observational evidence in how some features at the surface of the hot massive supergiant star Zeta Puppis induce the formation of fundamental structures in its wind. The research team used the network of nano satellites of the BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) mission to monitor the visible brightness changes coming from the surface of Zeta Puppis over about six months, and simultaneously monitored the behaviour of the wind of the star from several ground-based professional and amateur observatories. Part of the ground-based campaign which monitored the behaviour of the wind of the star included spectroscopic observations obtained with the SAAO 1.9m telescope in Sutherland.

We are indubitably the children of stars. But it is more precise to say that we are the children of massive stars. Indeed, in contrast to cool low-mass stars like the Sun, hot massive stars are scarce, possess extremely strong winds, and catastrophically end their lives as supernovae that stir up and enrich the interstellar medium with chemical elements involved in the creation of new stars and even planets like Earth. Thus, the research team’s breakthrough findings on the hot massive supergiant star Zeta Puppis are a significant step towards a better understanding of the true nature of hot massive stars which play a crucial role in the evolution of the Universe.

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Artist’s impression of the hot massive supergiant Zeta Puppis. The rotation period of the star indicated by the new BRITE observations is 1.78 days. (Image credits: Tahina Ramiaramanantsoa)

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