Two massive stars locked in a deadly embrace have been discovered over 160,000 light years away.
The incredible binary star system VFTS 352, which was picked up by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope during scans of the Tarantula Nebula, is much hotter, closer and more massive than any binary star system astronomers have observed to date.
The cores of the two stars are separated by a distance of only one million miles and each takes less than a single day to complete an orbit around the other.
The combined mass of both stars is equal to approximately 57 times the mass of our own sun and together they are burning at temperatures in excess of 40,000 degrees Celsius.
Being of equal size, the two stars are thought to be sharing up to 30% of their material and astronomers believe that their centers are currently in the process of merging together.
Eventually the two stars are likely to combine in to a single massive star that will ultimately collapse in on itself and explode as a gigantic supernova, spewing stellar matter across the cosmos.
“In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes,” said astrophysicist Selma de Mink.
“Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.”