Astronomers have found evidence for a dying Sun-like star coming briefly back to life after casting its gassy shells out into space, mimicking the possible fate our own Solar System faces in a few billion years.
This new picture of the planetary nebula Abell 30, located 5500 light-years from Earth, is a composite of visible images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray data from ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra space telescopes.
'Planetary nebula' is the name given to the often-concentric shells of stellar material cast into space by dying stars. To astronomers of the 18th century, these objects looked like the colourful 'blob' of a planet through their telescopes, and the name stuck.
Astronomers now know that as a star with less than eight times the mass of the Sun swells into a red giant towards the end of its life, its outer layers are expelled via pulsations and winds.
Ultraviolet radiation shining out from the stripped-down hot stellar core then lights up the ejected shells, resulting in intricate artworks that can be seen by modern telescopes.
The star at the heart of Abell 30 experienced its first brush with death
12 500 years ago – as seen from Earth – when its outer shell was stripped off by a slow and dense stellar wind.
Optical telescopes see the remnant of this evolutionary stage as a large, near-spherical shell of glowing material expanding out into space.
Then, about 850 years ago, the star suddenly came back to life, coughing out knots of helium and carbon-rich material in a violent event.
The star's outer envelope briefly expanded during this born-again episode, but then very rapidly contracted again witin 20 years.
This had the knock-on effect of accelerating the wind from the star to its present speed of 4000 kilometres per second – over 14 million kilometres per hour.
As this fast stellar wind catches up and interacts with the slower wind and clumps of previously ejected material, complex structures are formed, including the delicate comet-like tails seen near the central star in this image.
The stellar wind bombarding dense clumps of material provides a chilling look at the possible fate of Earth and its fellow planets in our own Solar System in a few billion years' time.
When our Sun emits its final gasps of life at the heart of a planetary nebula, its strong stellar wind and harsh radiation will blast and evaporate any planets that may have survived the red giant phase of stellar evolution.
If any distant civilisation is watching with high-power telescopes at the time, they might see the glowing embers of the planets light up in X-rays as they are engulfed in the stellar wind.
European Space Agency: http://www.esa.int
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday said it has certified privately held SpaceX to launch U.S. military and spy satellites, ending a monopoly held by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, since its creation in 2006.
Instrument selection has taken place for a robotic mission to study the habitability and vast sub-surface ocean of Europa
UAE Space Agency aims to become an industry leader with ambitious new plans, including a mission to Mars
United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Thursday said it would go out of business unless it won commercial and civil satellite launch orders to offset an expected slump in U.S. military and spy launches.
Jessica Banks was an astrophysicist at NASA; then she started RockPaperRobot and innovated the design of furniture and homes by incorporating advanced physics.
It took six hours and 100,000 miles to get there
When the New Horizons spacecraft races by the quasi-planetary body, Alan Stern will have finally met his match
Stellar explosions seed the universe with heavy elements, and they might have produced dense clouds of iron that went on to form other stars and planets
There were a lot of reasons that first picture was so unremarkable
The country's troubled space programme experiences another launch failure – the latest in a string of blunders