Astronomers have long suspected the phenomenon of two stars merging together was possible. But now, after years of searching, they have finally discovered the moment two closely orbiting stars became one.
A study by Romuald Tylenda of the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre in Torun, Poland, observed a pair or stars, named v1309 Scorpii.
The v1309 group was first found in 2008 when it erupted with a large solar flare. Several studies were undertaken but no one explanation was given for what happened.
However Mr Tylenda then realised that an observatory in the Polish capital Warsaw had, by chance, been pointing its lens at the region for several years.
Spending hours going through the images taken since 2002, he and his colleagues found light variations that suggested v1309 was originally a contact binary star.
A contact binary star is a just-touching pair of stars that circle each other over a small period of time – in this case 1.4 days.
As time goes on, the stars’ outer layers orbit each other hundreds of times and begin to form into one. The time the stars take to circle each other also reduces.
When this took place, Mr Tylenda and his team observed that the light from the star got brighter by a factor of 300 over just ten days.
V1309’s final burst then occurred in August 2008 when the stars’ cores finally became one and its brightness increased rapidly.
Soon it became more than 30,000 times brighter than the sun as its energy dissipated outwards from the centre, before returning to its original brightness some months later.
The explanations for these increases, according to Mr Tylenda and published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, are as a result of the merger of a contact binary star.
However scientists are unable to confirm his findings as they material given off when the two stars formed have largely blocked out the constellation.