A hybrid star known as a Thorne-Żytkow object has been discovered for the first time, with the study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

Thorne-Żytkow objects (TZOs) are believed to be formed when a red supergiant star begins to swallow a neutron star, which spirals towards the red supergiant’s core, interrupting its ongoing fusion process.

The merging of the two stars creates a hybrid star, according to the 1977 Thorne-Żytkow theory, which generates and excess rubidium, lithium and molybdenum, a unique chemical signature.

Now a team led by Emily Levesque of the University of Colorado Boulder have discovered a TZO candidate in the Small Magellanic Cloud. Levesque said:

“It is the first star to display the distinctive chemical profile of anomalous element enhancements thought to be unique to TZOs. The positive detection of a TZO will provide the first direct evidence for a completely new model of stellar interiors, a theoretically predicted fate for massive binary systems, and never-before-seen nucleosynthesis processes that would offer a new channel for Li and heavy-element production in our universe.”

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