Scientists starry-eyed over galaxy's new sighting

A team of international scientists has discovered a massive star system that could launch one of the most powerful explosions in the universe.

Thankfully, the jet of plasma it will shoot off when it explodes is not aimed towards Earth, reported The Independent.

"It was not expected (that) such a system would be found in our galaxy - only in younger galaxies much farther away," said one of the researchers, Dr Benjamin Pope, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) Sagan fellow at New York University's Centre for Cosmology and Particle Physics.

"Given its brightness, it is surprising it was not discovered a lot sooner."

The swirling cloud of dust is about 8,000 light years from Earth and is made up of two bright stars that orbit each other. As they do, a fast wind is thrown off, moving as fast as 12 million kmh.

When a powerful star spins at extremely high speeds, it can explode in a gamma-ray burst: A laser-like jet of extreme energy. No gamma-ray burst has ever been observed in the Milky Way, but they are so bright that astronomers see them regularly in other galaxies, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

It is no wonder then that the star system has been named Apep, after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2018, with the headline 'Scientists starry-eyed over galaxy's new sighting'. Print Edition | Subscribe