ESO finds massive 'kissing' stars locked in a fatal orbit

The European Sourthern Observatory's Very Large Telescope has discovered an incredible double star system composed of two young stars "kissing" — that is, they're so close together that they're touching, their final gesture before forming a single giant star or, perhaps, a binary black hole. The stars are located in the VFTS 352 system, which is a very far 160,000 or so lightyears away from the Tarantula Nebula. The photo above is an artist's representation of what the two planets may look like.

The particular region in which these two stars are located is "the most active nursery of new stars in the nearby Universe," according to ESO. These two stars orbit each other over the course of about a day, and they're spaced so that their centermost parts are 12 million kilometers apart – which is a very short distance, relatively speaking, as their outermost edges have now formed together.

When stars touch like this, it is called an overcontact binary system; says the ESO, this particular one imaged above is the largest known among them all, with a mass (of the two combined) that is 57 times greater than that of our Sun. The surface temperature is very hot, as well, at about 40,000 or more degrees Celsius.

This particular binary system is unique for a number of reasons, one of which is that both stars are almost the same size, meaning it isn't a "vampire" arrangement — that is, an arrangement where a smaller star sucks matter from a larger star. Because the stars are almost the same size, researchers believe they may be sharing matter with each other instead. Regardless, this period of the stars' lives is short, making discoveries such as this one incredibly unlikely.

Said Hugues Sana, one of the project's lead scientists, "If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst." If the stars don't mix, though, they could end up forming "a close binary system of black holes" instead.