Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dying Star Leaves Zippy Trail of Cosmic Dust

Imagine being NASA's Galex telescope operator observing as a blazing fast dying star trails a James Brown glittering cape of cosmic dust in its wake that is 13 light years long. It certainly isn't the hardest working star in this Universe, but Mira is one of the fastest with its own signature bling. The diagnosis is clear, the star is dying, but what a way to flame out. (photo BBC)

Mira (also called Mira A) has captivated astronomers for more than 400 years.

It sits about 350 light-years from Earth in a constellation known as Cetus, and is accompanied in orbit by a smaller secondary star, called Mira B, forming a binary system.

Billions of years ago, Mira would have been much like our Sun, but as it now enters its death-throes it has swollen into a type of star known as a red giant.

This wake gives scientists a first opportunity to study the pathology of a dying star. Mira or Omicron Ceti if you are into name dropping, has been putting on a show for Earth for the last 400 years or since the settlement of Jamestown, the Reformation was all the rage with Thirty Year Wars in Europe and Holland bought its first tea bag from China. Mira is in the last throes of stellar fame after burning up the universal stage a thousand times more than our own Sun. What comes after being center stage for a red giant, is well, sad - like child stars gone bad, the hot red giant morphs into a cold white dwarf signaling the last curtain call of its nuclear fusion life. BUT the good news is Physics will never be the same.

Most entertaining astrophysicist is now on PBS's NOVA and he wrote the wonderful collection of essays in Death By Blackhole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries Neil deGrasse Tyson. In a joint book and PBS effort with Daniel Goldsmith and filled with fabulous science snark is Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution. He also has The Sky is Not The Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist as well. Dr. Tyson is a must read (I have all his books) and much fun to watch and listen to his energetic explanations of the Universe! He wore pants ripped at the knee on his excellent lecture for C-SPAN.

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