Newly Discovered Hypervelocity Star May Explain Dark Matter’s Mysteries

May 7, 2014

A new star discovered by a team from the University of Utah, in collaboration with astronomers in China, makes the star at the center of our solar system seem a bit boring.

The newly discovered hypervelocity star is traveling at 1 million mph in relation to Earth.
Credit The University of Utah

The new star is what scientists call a hypervelocity star. U of U Physics and Astronomy Professor Zheng Zheng said scientists suspect the massive star once belonged to of a pair of stars that got too close to the black hole at the center of our galaxy over 30 million years ago. The black hole separated the stars, throwing the newly discovered ball of gas away from its center at a particularly high speed.

“With respect to the Earth, the speed is about 1.4 million mph,” Zheng said. 

He said at this speed, you could travel around the planet in 90 seconds.

Besides its high speed, scientists are interested in the star because it provides a window into the environment surrounding black holes, particularly the 1 million light year diameter dark matter halo surrounding the Milky Way.

“So this dark matter halo is made of dark matter, but we don't know what dark matter is. But we know dark matter must exist from the gravitational effect on the star,” he said. 

Zheng said the measured effects on the star will be used to explain dark matter itself.

He adds the newly discovered star is one of 20 hypervelocity stars discovered in since 2005. The star’s relative proximity to Earth along with its brightness will make it easier to do follow-up studies in the future.