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Leiden Observatory detects chaos in space and wins Louise Webster Prize

Leiden Observatory detects chaos in space and wins Louise Webster Prize

Infrared image through a very large telescope. (Photo: ESO/Callingham).

Joseph Callingham of the Leiden Observatory has received the Louise Webster Award for Distinguished Postdoctoral Research. Callingham was awarded the prize for the successful search for the most extreme things in the universe.

The object discovered in space was named after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos Apep. It consists of at least three huge, hot stars surrounded by amazing spiral dust plumes. Callingham and his colleagues showed, according to Leiden University, that Apep generates two types of stellar winds, one of which moves six times faster than the other, a very surprising observation.

“Apep really got us wrong with our ideas about the dying out of massive stars,” Callingham said of his discovery. “As the largest stars approach the end of their lives, they produce incredibly fast winds, over 1,000 kilometers per second. These winds carry huge amounts of mass away from the star. These massive stars often have a partner as well. The fast winds of the star can collide dying with its mate, producing strange dust patterns.” On the other hand, the Apep system features an amazing dust spinning wheel that moves much slower than the wind inside the system. “You can compare it to a feather still hanging in the middle of a massive storm,” Callingham explains on the university’s website.

There is no single performance
Callingham was incredibly surprised and pleased to learn of the award. But he does not think that it is entirely fair to award team performance, according to him, to someone. “I am very fortunate to have a great team around me who made it possible to discover Apep and solve some of its mysteries.”

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Leiden Science