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"There's a star with a tail in the tail of the Whale"

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  • mahtezcatpoc
    It looks like the well-known variable star Mira (Omicron Ceti) is leaving a comet-like trail of gas behind it as it moves through space.
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 20, 2007
      It looks like the well-known variable star Mira (Omicron Ceti) is
      leaving a comet-like trail of gas behind it as it moves through space.


      Story below (BLGD).

      Mark A. Holmes

      Story begins.--

      Friday, August 17, 2007
      A true shooting star
      Star streaks through space leaving spectacular tail behind it.

      WASHINGTON 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

      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 –
      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.

      "It's giving us this fantastic insight into the death processes of
      stars and their renewals – their phoenix-like revivals as their ashes
      get cycled backed into the next generation of stars," added Michael
      Shara of the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia
      University in New York.

      Shara said he expects that as this telescope continues mapping the
      cosmos in ultraviolet light for the first time, other similar stars
      may be discovered. "There must be lots more of these things," Shara said.

      NASA images show the tail as a glowing light-blue stream of material
      including oxygen, carbon and nitrogen.

      This material has been blown off Mira gradually over time – the oldest
      was released roughly 30,000 years ago as part of a long stellar death
      process – and is enough to form at least 3,000 future Earth-sized
      planets, the scientists said.

      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.

      The tail stretching 13 light-years is thousands of times the length of
      our solar system. The nearest star to Earth, called Proxima Centauri,
      is located 4 light-years away.

      While this star looks like a comet, stars and comets are quite
      different celestial bodies. Comets in our solar system are relatively
      small objects made up of rock, dust and ice trailed by a tail of gas
      and dust.

      Unlike our solitary sun, Mira is a so-called binary star traveling
      through space orbiting a companion believed to be the burnt-out, dead
      core of a star, known as a white dwarf.

      Scientists think Mira in time will eject all its gas, leaving a
      colorful shell known as a planetary nebula that also gradually will
      fade leaving behind a white dwarf.

      --Story ends.
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