The image below is of a newly discovered, and utterly surprising, spiral structure in the material around the red giant star R Sculptoris, 780 light-years from Earth. Scientists used to think the gassy red giant star was just a shell with splotchy innards, but the incredible new picture has revealed its spiral nature.
Take a look, it’s pretty intense:
Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
The researchers think that this amazing sight, caught by the new Atacama Large millimetre/submillimeter Array — a telescope composed of 66 antennas located in Chile’s Atacama desert — was created by the the big red giant when it began expelling large amounts of it’s insides, a part of its dying breath. They modelled the solar wind, based on the data from the telescope, and the release of particles seems to have happened about 1,800 years ago and lasted probably 200 years, a press alert from Nature said.
The stellar winds created by the star throwing out its particles may have been sculpted into this odd spiral pattern by a companion star, which we can’t see. The team published their findings in the journal Nature today, Oct 9.
Observations like these can help scientists understand what will eventually happen to our sun as it ages, how the elements that created Earth and life were made. This is one of the first findings to come from the Atacama array, which gives images that are 10 times sharper than Hubble telescope. It was built to study molecular clouds like the one around Sculptoris R, and areas where new stars are being created, planetary systems, galaxies, and the origins of life.
“By taking advantage of the power of ALMA to see fine details, we can understand much better what happens to the star before, during and after the thermal pulse, by studying how the shell and the spiral structure are shaped,” study researcher Matthias Maercker said in a statement from European Southern Observatory. “We always expected ALMA to provide us with a new view of the Universe, but to be discovering unexpected new things already, with one of the first sets of observations is truly exciting.”
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