Shining Light on the Violent Lives of Stars
Interacting stars play key roles in diverse areas of astrophysics. They are precursors of Type Ia supernovae (which result from the violent explosion of white dwarf stars that have completed their normal life cycles), X-ray binaries (stars that are luminous in X-rays) and double neutron stars (remnants resulting from the gravitational collapse of massive stars during a supernova event).
Interacting stars are also likely to be the most important candidates for gravitational wave detection (experiments designed to measure minute distortions of space-time predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity). They also played an important role in the formation of the first stars of the early universe.
But while interacting stars are abundant, they are poorly understood. Dr. Natalia Ivanova, Canada Research Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics and an expert in the study of binary stars, is using a variety of numerical methods to research everything from the evolution of specific binary stars and the collisions of two stars to populations of interacting stars.
Ivanova is fascinated with the different kinds of interactions stars can have, especially the common envelope event—a short-lived phase in the evolution of a binary star, in which the largest of two stars initiates unstable mass transfer to its companion star. She will work on understanding this extremely sophisticated and highly important event.
Ivanova’s research will vastly increase understanding of the little known, but violent, lives of interacting stars, and will expand our knowledge of the universe.