Flickering of young stars reveals previously unknown link with black holes

An international team of astronomers, including Dr Simon Vaughan from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has discovered a previously unknown link between the way young stars grow and the way black holes and other exotic space objects feed from their surroundings.

The study shows how the 'flickering' in the visible brightness of young stellar objects (YSOs) - very young stars in the final stages of formation - is similar to the flickering seen from black holes or white dwarfs as they violently pull matter from their surroundings in a process known as accretion.

The study found a relationship between the size of the central object and the speed of the flickering produced by the accretion disc, suggesting the physics of the accretion must be very similar around these different astronomical objects despite them being completely different in other ways, such as size, age, temperature and gravity.

The new observations were obtained with Kepler/K2 and ULTRACAM, examining accreting white dwarfs and young stellar objects.

The study was led by Simone Scaringi, a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.

The study, ‘Accretion-induced variability links young stellar objects, white dwarfs, and black holes’, which is published in the journal Science Advances, is available here.

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