The bright star Regulus of the Leo Constellation is considered as one of the brightest and biggest stars present in the night sky. And for the first time astronomers have been able to detect unique polarized light emitted from the star Regulus which spins very fast. This particular phenomenon was predicted by Indian astrophysicist and Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar almost 70 years ago.
A group of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and University College London in the UK have discovered that Regulus, one of the biggest stars in the night sky is continuously emitting light in a unique and polarized way, and its rotating speed is so fast that it might ‘fly apart’ and destroy itself.
Through the research, scientists have been able to get detailed information about the star, like figuring out the spinning rate as well as the orientation in the space of the spinning axis of Regulus. One of the researchers named Daniel Cotton from UNSW said that Regulus is spinning at a speed of about 320 kilometers per second and this astonishing speed is equivalent to the journey from Sydney to Canberra taking place within a second. Cotton also informed that the bright star Regulus is spinning so fast that it is close to flying apart and measured its spinning rate to be 96.5 percent of the angular velocity required for the breakup.
In 1946, when Chandrasekhar predicted this type of polarized light coming out of the fast spinning star, this led to the development of sensitive instruments called as stellar polarimeters which would help in detection and analysis of this unique phenomenon. In 1968 also many researchers carried forward the works of Chandrasekhar and claimed that the distorted or squash shaped rapidly spinning star might be the cause of emission of polarised light, but none of them were able to see this type of effect during all these years.
To analyze the polarised light of Regulus, the researchers used a highly sensitive High Precision Polarimetric Instrument which was designed and made at UNSW Sydney and was attached to the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory situated in the western New South Wales. The study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.