Skip to comments.Discovery of Vast Tail on Dying Star Promises Clues to Solar Birth
Posted on 08/15/2007 7:42:32 PM PDT by RDTF
Astronomers have for the first time found a gargantuan, comet-like tail created by a slowly dying star, a discovery that gives new insights into how old stars seed the galaxies with material that ultimately becomes new stars and solar systems.
Astronomers have long known that dying stars provide the building blocks for future ones, but never before have they seen the process so vividly in action.
Save & Share Article What's This?
DiggGoogle del.icio.usYahoo! RedditFacebook
The 13-light-year-long tail is made up of molecules of oxygen, carbon and nitrogen shed by the slowly dying but very fast-moving star as it speeds through the Milky Way at almost 300,000 miles per hour. Though it is the first of its kind ever found, astronomers said they expect it will not be the last.
"I was shocked when I first saw this completely unexpected, humongous tail trailing behind a well-known star," said lead investigator Christopher Martin of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. His collaborator, Mark Seibert of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, added that "this is an utterly new phenomenon to us, and we are still in the process of understanding the physics involved."
The star, named Mira, has been well-known to astronomers for centuries. Its tail was discovered using NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, or Galex. The probe has scanned the entire sky for ultraviolet light since its launch in 2003; other telescopes apparently missed Mira because the tail glows ultraviolet, and astronomers were looking with a different part of the light spectrum.
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
Whoops- I credited Drudge but just realized I didn’t see this there but right from the WaPo.
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A large star in its death throes is leaving a huge, turbulent tail of oxygen, carbon and nitrogen in its wake that makes it look like an immense comet hurtling through space, astronomers said on Wednesday.
Nothing like this has ever previously been witnessed in a star, according to scientists who detected it using NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, an orbiting space telescope that observes the cosmos in ultraviolet light.
This tail, spanning a stunning distance of 13 light-years, was detected behind the star Mira, located 350 light-years from Earth in the "whale" constellation Cetus.
"There's a star with a tail in the tail of the whale," said one of the researchers, astronomer Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena, California.
A light year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.
Rocketing through our Milky Way galaxy at 80 miles per second (130 km per second) -- literally faster than a speeding bullet -- the star is spewing material that scientists believe may be recycled into new stars, planets and maybe even life.
"We believe that the tail is made up of material that is being shed by the star which is heating up and then spiraling back into this turbulent wake," said astronomer Christopher Martin of California Institute of Technology, one of the researchers in the study published in the journal Nature.
Mira is a so-called "red giant" star near the end of its life. Astronomers believe our sun will become a similar red giant in 4 to 5 billion years, but they doubt it will develop such a tail because it is not moving through space as quickly.
The astronomers were surprised to find this unique feature in Mira, a well-known star studied since the 16th century. Mira (pronounced MY-rah) stems from the Latin word for "wonderful."
Despite having about the same mass as the sun, Mira has swollen up to over 400 times the size of the sun, meaning the force of gravity is having a hard time holding it together, Seibert said.
Sizzling Comets Circle a Dying StarAstronomers have detected a massive cloud of water vapor around an aging star. It could be the telltale sign of innumerable dying comets -- and a glimpse of things to come in our own solar system. This story includes an animation of the Sun billions of years from now swelling to engulf the inner planets.
by Tony Phillips
July 13, 2001
Moon Has A Sodium TailBoston University astronomers announced today the discovery of an enormous tail of sodium gas stretching to great distances from the moon. The observations were made at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, on nights following the Leonid meteor shower of November 1998. The tail of sodium gas was seen to distances of at least 500,000 miles from the moon, changing its appearance over three consecutive nights... Ten years ago, groundbased telescopes revealed that sodium gas (Na) was in the lunar atmosphere, an element that can be used to trace the shape and behavior of such a thin atmosphere... The BU team considered several theories that could explain these unusual features, ruling out a comet, the impact of Leonid meteors upon dust in the solar system, and even possible instrumentation problems... [T]he August observations without meteors and the November observations with meteors imply that the daily flux of micrometeors that strikes the moon's surface creates an extended tail at all times; it was just so enhanced during the strong Leonid storm that it was observed rather easily.
Center for Space Physics
and American Geophysical Union
1 June 1999Bulletin of Physics NewsThe Moon has a comet-like coma and tail. Michael Mendillo of Boston University, reporting at this week's meeting of American Geophysical Union in Baltimore, showed that the moon has a tail, consisting of sodium gas, extending at least 15,000 miles away from the lunar surface. The sodium, Mendillo believes, is released from lunar rocks by meteorite impacts and is later dissipated into space where it is formed into a tail by the force of solar radiation.
Number 36 (Story #5), May 31, 1991
by Phillip F. Schewe
and Ben SteinSodium Nebula Around JupiterA sodium nebula around Jupiter may be the largest object ever recorded on film. A group of astronomers at Boston University, working at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, have detected a neutral cloud of sodium out to distances beyond 400 Jovian radii. The Boston astronomers believe that the shape of the nebula will provide information about Jupiter's magnetosphere and that their technique of measuring non-spherical neutral clouds may be applicable to the study of other planetary magnetospheres.
Phillip F. Schew
November 27, 1990
Physics NewsSodium Cloud Around IoAstronomers have previously known of a sodium cloud which precedes the moon Io in its orbit around Jupiter. The cloud is believed to arise from slow escape of sodium from Io. Now the Galileo spacecraft is providing details of another sodium feature at Io, more of a fast-escaping spray or jet, thought to come about when Io plows through Jupiter's potent magnetic field, a process which induces mega-amp currents through Io's atmosphere... New pictures, reported by scientists at the University of Colorado... and Boston University (Jody Wilson), localize the source of the sodium to a region smaller than Io's diameter, suggesting that Io's atmosphere might not be global; that is, the atmosphere might be patchy and not extend all the way to the poles.
Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein
November 9, 1999Sodium Gas Tail of Hale-Bopp CometAstronomers say the have found a third tail trailing behind the Hale-Bopp comet - a thin straight jet of sodium gas unlike any other seen before, The Boston Globe reported yesterday. The discovery was made Friday by a team of astronomers at the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes in the Canary Islands. The scientists were at a loss to explain how the sodium tail was created. The astronomers used a filter over a telescope that allowed them to detect the light given off by sodium gas, the same yellow glow seen in ordinary sodium-vapor street lamps. Astronomers have long known that comets have two types of tails - one made of dust and the other of electrically charged gas called plasma. They have also known that comets contain sodium, but had never seen it before in the form of a tail.
‘Blue Needle’ Presents New Challenge for Theorists
W. M. Keck Observatory | July 19th, 2007 | Laura K. Kinoshita
Posted on 07/21/2007 4:17:29 PM EDT by SunkenCiv
Star Caught Smoking: VLTI Snapshots Dusty Puff Around Variable Star
[ R Coronae Borealis ]
ESO | August 3, 2007
Posted on 08/06/2007 10:12:22 AM EDT by SunkenCiv
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.