First Star Seen Leaving Our Galaxy

Astronomers have spotted a star moving at faster than the galactic escape velocity. It is leaving our galaxy, never to return. It is believed that an encounter with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy may be the cause.

"It's the first clear-cut case of a star that's no longer gravitationally bound to the Milky Way," says Warren Brown, an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The star has been clocked at 670 kilometers per second, and will leave the galaxy within 80 to 100 million years.

Scientists believe that the star was initially paired with another star in a binary system close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The swing past the black hole combined with the star's orbit around its companion may have boosted the star to its current super speed. This phenomenon was predicted in 1988, but this is the first time it has been observed.

Science fiction writers have contemplated the question of rogue stars and planets since the nineteen-thirties. In Arthur C. Clarke's The City and The Stars, a fleet of stars flees the galaxy to escape a dire fate (early versions of this novel were being worked on in the late 1930's; it was published in its final, expanded form in 1956). Planets fleeing the galaxy in formation (see Kemplerer Rosette)are found in Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringworld, as well as Stanley Schmidt's Lifeboat Earth, and the planet He in James Blish's CITIES IN FLIGHT.

Read more at Rogue star shown the galactic door. Thanks to Winchell Chung for the idea for this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/9/2005)

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