Our Galaxy Has a Shocking Array of Really Weird Stars. Here’s Your Ultimate Guide

You know how stars do. They are out there, executing their matter, fusing a full bunch of hydrogen into helium, shining up the joint.

But some stars are just a little little bit distinct from the norm. Not content material with simply just lighting up the night sky like a huge disco, they zoom, shimmer, dim and even hang close to seeming to be more mature than the true Universe. These are our galaxy’s oddballs, and we adore every single and every single a single.


Require for pace: PSR J0002+6216

cannonball pulsar(J. English/University of Manitoba/NRAO/F. Schinzel et al./DRAO/Canadian Galactic Aircraft Survey/NASA/IRAS)

We are not guaranteed where by the star named PSR J0002+6216 is headed, but we know it’s heading there quickly. It is travelling at the unquestionably breakneck speed of 1,130 kilometres for each 2nd (700 miles for each next). That could just take it from Earth to the Moon in six minutes.

It really is one particular of the quickest stars we have ever observed.

There are a number of of these runaway “hypervelocity” stars in the Milky Way, but couple with origins as crystal clear as J0002. It really is a pulsar, a variety of rapidly rotating neutron star – the collapsed main of a massive star right after it has long gone supernova.

It was ejected from the expanding cloud of a new supernova explosion, leaving a path powering right after it punched by way of the explosion’s outer shell of particles. The supernova was so strong it kicked out the star and sent it careening by way of the galaxy.

Crimson and dead: RX J0806.4-4123 (815 mild-yrs)

infrared star(Nahks Tr’Ehnl, Penn State)

Pulsar RX J0806.4-4123 – yet another lifeless star – has been noticed emitting infrared radiation above long distances. By alone, which is not so abnormal – but RX J0806.4-4123’s prolonged emission is only infrared. That is in no way been seen in advance of generally we see pulsars via X-ray and radio emissions. 

“We observed an extended spot of infrared emissions all over this neutron star … the complete size of which translates into about 200 astronomical units (or 2.5 instances the orbit of Pluto about the Solar) at the assumed length of the pulsar.”


There are two feasible explanations: a fallback disc of content that coalesced all-around the star soon after the supernova – basically the lifeless star’s personal material, interfering with its typical emissions. This could have implications for our knowing of neutron star evolution.

Or it could be a pulsar wind nebula, established when a highly effective wind from a pulsar blows again the materials still left around from the star’s explosion, hollowing out a cavity in the nebula. But these are ordinarily seen in the X-ray spectrum. An infrared-only pulsar wind nebula would be a new and fascinating discovery certainly.

Mutually certain destruction: Apep

apep(ESO/Callingham et al.)

In 2018, concealed away in a sinuous cloud of glowing dust, astronomers discovered something wonderful: a binary star called Apep which is proper on the verge of a stunning supernova. And when it goes, there’s a very good opportunity it will spew out a gamma-ray burst, releasing far more vitality in 10 seconds than the Sunshine could in 10 billion years.

By no means in advance of have we noticed a gamma-ray burst in the Milky Way.

The two stars are unusual, far too – Wolf-Rayet stars. These are pretty incredibly hot, really luminous, extremely previous stars that generally have at least 25 occasions the mass of the Sun, which they shed at a huge charge. For the reason that this phase of a star’s lifetime is so limited, we do not see a lot of of them at all.

As the two stars orbit each other, they churn the mass they are shedding into a spiral condition, considerably like a garden sprinkler, making a rare type of nebula referred to as a pinwheel.

The Historical A person: Hd 140283

methuselah(Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, and UKSTU/AAO)

High definition 140283 is a incredibly peculiar star indeed. It’s aged – tremendous outdated. As in, commencing of the Universe outdated. That is not terribly unheard of the Milky Way is speckled with outdated stars listed here and there. But none of these many others appear to be to be older than the Universe by itself.

Hd 140283 – AKA the Methuselah star – does. The Universe is all over 13.8 billion several years outdated. Primarily based on Hubble measurements of its brightness in 2013, High definition 140283 appeared to be about 14.5 billion several years outdated.

Glimpse, there was a margin for error of 800 million many years – which implies, even according to people calculations, it could effortlessly even now be young than the Universe. And it would truly have to be, except our understanding of the Universe is completely wrong.

The Alien Megastructure: Tabby’s Star

tabbys star(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The hype has died down now, but we don’t consider we’ll at any time prevent being deeply curious about the secrets of KIC 8462852, AKA Tabby’s Star. Found by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian of Yale College, it confirmed some truly strange conduct of brightening and dimming.

The fluctuations are not of the typical sort you’d expect from orbiting planets, or a variable star. It is seemingly random, with bright and dim durations lasting for arbitrary quantities of time, and it darkens by as a lot as 22 %.


Some wavelengths are blocked more than many others – which policies out an “alien megastructure” these kinds of as a Dyson sphere also, it can be as well previous to even now have enough of a protoplanetary disc remaining to trigger that level of gentle blockage.

Other theories consist of a ringed planet passing in entrance of the star, both absolutely great or a lesser one particular with an orbital wobble a swarm of comets area junk the star swallowing a earth anything happening inside of the star itself and the scientific equivalent of a shrug emoji.

The most most likely perpetrator is some kind of dust, and a heckton of it, but it is also probable we are going to by no means truly know. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The Big Wotsit: EPIC 204376071

star occultation(GrandpaFluffyClouds/reddit)

If you assumed KIC 8462852 was interesting, wait right up until you listen to about EPIC 204376071. In 2019, astronomers documented that some thing blocked the mild of this star – a mere 440 light-weight-several years away – by up to 80 per cent for an total day.

It dimmed quite out of the blue, hit that peak of 80 % and then brightened once more a lot more gradually, almost certainly since some thing was passing in entrance of it. But what?


The closest match for the mild curve would be a tilted ring method orbiting the star it would have to be incredibly big nonetheless, and the design didn’t accurately in good shape – it essential a tighter orbit than was doable based on the 160-working day observation period.

Astronomers are using a lot more measurements of the star to attempt and determine out if some thing is orbiting it, so we just have to sit tight for now. The suspense is killing us!

Slow and Heavy: Hd 101065

Now, this star is just an complete legend of weirdness. It’s identified as Hd 101065, or Przybylski’s Star, and absolutely nothing about it is genuinely normal. It belongs to a class termed swiftly oscillating Ap stars. That indicates it truly is a subtype of the chemically unusual Ap star class (the p stands for ‘peculiar’) whose gentle pulsates pretty promptly.

However the star itself has a pretty gradual rotation: HD 101065 rotates just when each 188 years. That could be owing to abnormal chemistry, as Ap stars are inclined to have. Except Hd 101065 has a chemistry like no other Ap star.

It has low amounts of iron and nickel, but high amounts of major components these as strontium, caesium, uranium and neodymium. In addition, it appears to be to have a substantial amount of things called actinides – the only star in which they’ve been located.

These are the significant aspects with atomic numbers from 89 via 103, from actinium by way of lawrencium, all of which are radioactive. They show up in High definition 101065 as small-lived radioactive isotopes – which is very baffling, given that their limited fifty percent-everyday living implies they need to be extended absent.

The finest clarification is that these actinides are the decayed type of as-still unidentified and lengthy-sought super-significant elements hypothesised to exist somewhere out there in the Universe. Whoa.

The Magnetic Zombie: XTE J1810-197

Magnetars are some of the strangest dead stars out there, and XTE J1810-197 is really much the strangest of them all. They are neutron stars that, someway, have incredibly extreme magnetic fields, all-around a quadrillion situations more robust than Earth’s.

XTE J1810-197 is 1 of just 4 of the 23 identified magnetars that emit radio waves, and it was accomplishing this rather reliably up right up until about 2008. Then it went unquestionably radio silent – till December of 2018, when its radio activity begun up once more.

But some thing was diverse. The action was much less extraordinary, the pulse profile additional subdued, with millisecond-scale oscillations that could probably be associated to surface waves in the stellar crust as the magnetic field shifts.

We nonetheless you should not comprehend these weird beasts of stars, but continuing to keep track of XTE J1810-197 could pony up a couple of clues.

The Star that Shouldn’t Exist: Swift J0243.6+6124


Ok, so neutron stars are just really unusual. Swift J0243.6+6124 is an additional a person, and gosh is it at any time a puzzle.

It is been accreting make a difference from a close by binary companion, and spewing out a thing termed relativistic jets. These are not unusual for neutron stars, as nicely as lively black holes – large-velocity jets of plasma, shooting out from the neutron star or black gap perpendicular to the accretion disc.

Researchers will not know the precise mechanism at the rear of jet manufacturing. They imagine materials from the innermost rim of the accretion disc is funnelled together magnetic field lines, which act as a synchrotron to speed up the particles ahead of launching them at incredible velocities.

The trouble with Swift J0243.6+6124 is that it has an unusually sturdy magnetic field for a neutron star. Beforehand, jets had only been noticed in neutron stars with weak magnetic fields, foremost to a hypothesis that magnetic fields could constrain them.

Swift J0243.6+6124 puts paid to that. But it also presents a new supply for screening how magnetic fields impact the launching of jets, so which is rather neat.

Blowin’ in the Wind: Mira

mira(NASA/JPL-Caltech/C. Martin, Caltech/M. Seibert, OCIW)

Mira is dying. One portion of it, Mira A, at the time dazzling like the Solar, is a pink big now, shucking off its outer layers above time, its gentle brightening and dimming, with a typical 11-month cycle. It really is only noticeable to the naked eye as component of the constellation Cetus for a single thirty day period in that cycle.

It has a binary companion, Mira B, a useless star termed a white dwarf – the evolutionary close-issue of stars not substantial plenty of to collapse into a neutron star. This white dwarf is accreting the make any difference being shucked off by Mira A – and, fascinatingly, this seems to be starting up to form a protoplanetary disc, formerly only believed feasible with quite younger stars.

Newborn planets forming all-around a useless star – how poetic. There is certainly a science fiction novel in that.

As the whole system moves throughout the evening sky, it is leaving a path of lose materials in its wake. This ‘tail’ seems to be a little bit like a comet – if a comet could path material 13 light-decades powering it.

It really is a single of the most incredible points in a sky complete of amazing things.

A edition of this posting was initially published in June 2019.