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Leo constellation’s brightest star Regulus is spinning so fast , it may ‘fly apart’

Astronomers also found that the star, which is a part of Leo constellation, is emitting light in a ‘unique’ way while rotating.

science Updated: Sep 20, 2017 15:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Regulus,Leo constellation,Leo
Regulus is the brightest star in constellation Leo. (Representative image)

Scientists have discovered that Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, is spinning very fast and is close to “flying apart” and breaking up.

Astronomers also found that the star, which is a part of Leo constellation, is emitting light in a ‘unique’ way while rotating. The phenomena was first predicted by Indian astrophysicist S Chandrasekhar in 1946 but it hadn’t been observed till now, the study said.

“We found Regulus is rotating so quickly it is close to flying apart, with a spin rate of 96.5% of the angular velocity for break-up,” said Dr Daniel Cotton from the University of New South Wales’ School of Physics who has authored the study.

Regulus is spinning at approximately 320km per second that is equivalent to reaching Canberra from Sydney within a second, said Cotton.

The study -- published in Nature Astronomy -- was conducted by a team from UNSW, University College London, University of Washington and University of Hertfordshire.

Sensitive instruments called Stellar Polarimeters were created to detect the occurrence after Chandrasekhar predicted that polarised light is emitted from the edges of stars. Further research in 1968 found that the distorted or squashed shape of a star, which is rotating, will emit light.

Regulus is 77 light years away from the Earth and is placed at the bottom of a large backwards question mark pattern, called the Sickle, within Leo. It releases nearly 350 times the energy given off by the Sun, said Earthsky.

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 15:51 IST