ESO Discovers Triple Star System Dubbed "Apep" In Our Galaxy

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has announced that it has used the VISIR instrument on the Very Large Telescope to capture an image of a newly discovered, and very massive triple star systems in our galaxy. The official name for this triple star system is 2XMM J160050.7-514245, but the scientists gave it a name that is much more fitting for its serpentine looks- "Apep." Apep is an ancient Egyptian deity that was a giant serpent that embodied chaos.

Scientists investigating Apep say that it is a Wolf-Rayet star system and is thought to be the source of one of the most energetic phenomena in the entire universe, that phenomena is a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB). The scientists say that this is the first system of this type to be discovered in our galaxy and note that they never expected to find a system of this type in "our own backyard."

GRBs are among the most powerful explosions in the universe and last from a few thousandths of a second to a few hours and can release enormous amounts of energy in those short time frames. Researchers say that a GRB can release as much energy during its duration as the Sun releases in its entire lifetime. A GRB is considered long duration if it lasts longer than two seconds.

As for what caused the GRB, scientists believe that it was caused by the supernova explosions of the fast rotating Wolf-Rayet stars. Wolf-Rayet stars are what some of the largest stars in the universe evolve into near the end of their lives. Stars stay in this form for a short period, at least in cosmic scales, of a few hundred thousand years.

During this evolution, the stars throw out huge amounts of material via a stellar wind that throws matter away from the star at millions of kilometers per hour. Scientists estimate that Apep's solar wind is traveling at 12 million km/h. This incredibly fast-moving solar wind is what has created the serpent-like swirls around the star system giving it its nickname.