A strange star spiral, spotted by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), offers a scary view of our sun’s fate.
According to a statement from the European Southern Observatory, astronomers have found a spiral structure in the substance around the ancient star R Sculptoris. Astronomers contend that this is the first time that a spiral structure with an outer spherical shell has been located around a red giant star.
“We’ve seen shells around this kind of star before, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen a spiral of material coming out from a star, together with a surrounding shell,” said lead author Matthias Maercker of the ESO and Argelander Institute for Astronomy at the University of Bonn in a statement.
Astronomers point out that because red giants eject copious amounts of material, they are big-time contributors to the dust and gas that assist the formation of future generations of stars and planetary systems.
“When we observed the star with ALMA, not even half its antennas were in place. It’s really exciting to imagine what the full ALMA array will be able to do once it’s completed in 2013,” said co-author Wouter Vlemmings of Chalmers University of Technology in a statement.
During their dying days, stars much bigger than our sun become red giants and are drained of a lot of their mass in a dense stellar wind. During the red giant stage, stars deal with short-duration phases of explosive helium burning in a shell around the stellar core. A thermal pulse causes material to be expelled from the surface of the star at a much greater rate, causing a shell of dust and gas to form around the star.
Lasting only a few hundred years, thermal pulses typically take place about every 10,000 to 50,000 years during the red giant stage. Astronomers believe that R Sculptoris underwent a thermal pulse event about 1800 years ago.
“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,” said Mr. Maercker. “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.”
Astronomers believe that ALMA’s observations will give them a good idea of what might happen to our sun in the distant future. Astronomers also think that ALMA’s observations will help them understand how the material that led to the formation of our plant reached this part of the solar system.
“It’s a real challenge to describe theoretically all the observed details coming from ALMA, but our computer models show that we really are on the right track. ALMA is giving us new insight into what’s happening in these stars and what might happen to the Sun in a few billion years from now,” said co-author Shazrene Mohamed of the Argelander Institute for Astronomy and the South African Astronomical Observatory in a statement.
“In the near future, observations of stars like R Sculptoris with ALMA will help us to understand how the elements we are made up of reached places like the Earth. They also give us a hint of what our own star’s far future might be like,” added Mr. Maercker.
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