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Research  A low-mass star speeding fast enough to escape the Milky Way galaxy

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INTRO: It may seem like the Sun is stationary while the planets in its orbit are moving, but the Sun is actually orbiting around the Milky Way galaxy at an impressive rate of about 220 kilometers per second — almost half a million miles per hour. As fast as that may seem, when a faint red star was discovered crossing the sky at a noticeably quick pace, scientists took notice.

Thanks to the efforts of a citizen science project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 and a team of astronomers from around the country, a rare hypervelocity L subdwarf star has been found racing through the Milky Way. More remarkably, this star may be on a trajectory that causes it to leave the Milky Way altogether.

The research, led by University of California San Diego Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Adam Burgasser, was presented today at a press conference during the 244th national meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Madison, Wisconsin.

The star, charmingly named CWISE J124909+362116.0 (“J1249+36”), was first noticed by some of the over 80,000 citizen science volunteers participating in the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project, who comb through enormous reams of data collected over the past 14 years by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. This project capitalizes on the keen ability of humans, who are evolutionarily programmed to look for patterns and spot anomalies in a way that is unmatched by computer technology. Volunteers tag moving objects in data files and when enough volunteers tag the same object, astronomers investigate.

J1249+36 immediately stood out because of the speed at which it is moving across the sky, initially estimated at about 600 kilometers per second (1.3 million miles per hour). At this speed, the star is fast enough to escape the gravity of the Milky Way, making it a potential “hypervelocity” star..... (MORE - details, no ads)

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