UI astronomers create first detailed image of distant star - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI astronomers create first detailed image of distant star

IOWA CITY (KWWL) - Astronomers at the University of Iowa have made a breakthrough in the study of stars other than our own sun. They say it will help them understand how our sun works, and how its magnetic fields impact our planet.

Professor Robert Mutel and graduate student Bill Peterson are trying to answer one question: how are magnetic fields within stars created?

"This is really one of the most challenging questions in astrophysics these days," said Dr. Mutel.

Peterson gathered data from a global array of radio telescopes, one of which is located in North Liberty. He used that information to create an image of the Algol system, 100 light years away from earth.

"It's the first detailed image of any kind of another star, that can show individual structures on that star," Peterson told us. He hopes it will tell him more about how a star's magnetic field is formed, and how it affects nearby planets.

"It's only this special technique of this global array of radio telescopes, which allows us to do this."

The image actually shows two stars, the blue "Algol-A" and the red "Algol-B," in a close-orbit dance. But Peterson is interested in "Algol-B" because of its strong magnetic activity, which causes immense solar flares. Our sun creates flares on a much smaller scale, but they're still powerful enough to knock out electricity and satellite communications on earth.

"We know a lot about our sun, but we don't have anything to compare it to."

The stars of the Algol system are much larger than our own; ten of our suns could fit between them. "Algol-B" is also nearing the end of its life.

"Because it's nearing the end of its life, it's expanding into a giant, because that's what stars do," explained Peterson. "Since the other star is so close, it's starting to pull some of the outer layers off that star."

But Peterson says it's got another hundred million years or so, plenty of time to figure out what makes this star - and our sun - tick.

The university's research is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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