Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Star Streaks Through Cosmos Leaving a Tail

“Nothing like this has ever previously been witnessed in a star,” reports CNN. A dying star, Mira, is shedding oxygen, carbon and nitrogen in a magnificent tail stretching 13 light years behind it. Thirteen light years is quite a ways. It’s thousands of times longer than our whole solar system, and further than the closest star (Proxima Centauri, which is four light years away).

Mira is 350 million light years from us in the Cetus (whale) constellation and currently in the red giant stage of development. That’s the step it takes before collapsing into a white dwarf, which can be the diameter of Earth with a mass of our own Sun.

Speaking of our Sun, it’s scheduled to go red giant in a few billion years. So will it leave a tail? Probably not. It’s not moving as fast as Mira. She’s been clocked by scientists at 80 miles per second.

Mira’s tail, like a lot of the matter ejected by stars, will probably end up seeding new planets, stars and possibly life. So far, the star has shed enough material to form 3,000 Earth-sized planets.

Typically, a red giant leaves a brilliant cloud behind as it shrinks into a white dwarf. Such clouds, called nebula, are common. But I wonder if Mira won’t leave a different phenomenon in its wake. Mira is part of a binary star system. She circles a white dwarf.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.