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NASA Space

NASA Finds Star With a Tail 233

Andrew Stellman writes "NASA astronomers held a press conference announcing that a new ultraviolet mosaic from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer shows a speeding star named Mira that's leaving an enormous trail of "seeds" for new solar systems. Mira is traveling faster than a speeding bullet, and has a tail that's 13 light-years long and over 30,000 years old. The website has images and a replay of the teleconference."
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NASA Finds Star With a Tail

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  • by Vampyre_Dark (630787) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @08:55PM (#20244367)
    Name this star Kirk.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I've seen all ~70 episodes of The Original Series and all the movies, and I've no idea where the Kirk-sleeping-with-every-girl-he-could-find thing started. I mean, he showed some interest here and there but that's it.
      • by myowntrueself (607117) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:45PM (#20244825)
        I've seen all ~70 episodes of The Original Series and all the movies, and I've no idea where the Kirk-sleeping-with-every-girl-he-could-find thing started.

        I think it started with the urge to deny the existance of Kirk-Spock sexual tension...

        • by kalidasa (577403) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:09PM (#20244981) Journal
          Roddenberry's intro to the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture responds to the whole Kirk/Spock sexual tension thing in Kirk's voice with a disclaimer to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing from memory, and I read the book when it came out): "there's nothing wrong with two men being attracted to each other, but if I were to go in that direction, I think I'd choose a sexual partner who was interested more often than every 7 years." I can think of three women Kirk certainly slept with of the top of my head: the slave girl in Bread and Circuses, Miramanee, Carol Marcus; and there are a lot of probables.
          • by cHiphead (17854)
            Perhaps, then, we should base it on who SHATNER slept with, and name the damn star Bill.

          • by Bemopolis (698691) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @01:22AM (#20246001)
            I started a list, but rather than underline my geek-dom of All Things Trek, I'll just demonstrate a mastery of Some Things Interweb:

            Kirk's Bedpost Notches []

            In my defense, there were a couple that even I couldn't remember.
        • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:43PM (#20245189)
          >>I've seen all ~70 episodes of The Original Series and all the movies, and I've no idea where the >>Kirk-sleeping-with-every-girl-he-could-find thing started.

          >I think it started with the urge to deny the existance of Kirk-Spock sexual tension...

          What sexual tension? []
        • by Wylfing (144940)

          As if anyone could deny it! This episode [] resolved the ambiguity at last.

      • by hazem (472289)
        I had watched Star Trek most of my life and I didn't figure it out until I started watching DVDs without commercials.

        It's subtle, but there. In one case, he's trying to seduce a woman to regain control of the ship. They start to kiss. And there's a commercial break. When it resumes from the break, she is fixing her hair and he is sitting on the bed putting his boots back on.

        Clearly, something happened during the commercial. Sadly, it wasn't until I was 23 that I actually got to experience the ins and o
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SL Baur (19540)

        I've no idea where the Kirk-sleeping-with-every-girl-he-could-find thing started.

        You must be new, that's how things were filmed then. The first ever inter-racial (ie black-white) kiss was on classic Star Trek.

        Roddenberry deliberately pushed the envelope whereever he could. Sulu, Chekov on the bridge, etc. The only way a woman could get on was to be married or be mistress to him - Nurse Chapel was his wife, Uhura was his mistress and so was the (can't remember her name and my own videos of the classic series are not handy) blonde babe ensign who was in Charley, etc.

        Type M-x praise-b

      • by Lars T. (470328)
        Mira Romain [] was more into Scotty anyway.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Speed Pour (1051122)
      just trying to get a piece of tail

      Forgive me, the joke is obvious, but it had to be made
  • by Marc_Hawke (130338) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:00PM (#20244423)
    So, when does it hit Earth? Have they made the movie yet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:01PM (#20244439)
    They describe it as traveling at "supersonic" speeds when they should know there is no sound in the vacuum of space.

    They should tell us how many parsecs it could do the Kessel run in.
    • They describe it as traveling at "supersonic" speeds when they should know there is no sound in the vacuum of space.
      Actually, there is interstellar dust that can propagate waves. Any medium that can propagate waves has a "speed of sound", but the sounds that travel through that dust are beyond a human's hearing range.
    • I personally wanted to know how many Library of Congresses it could pass in an hour.
    • The evidence they provide for it traveling at "supersonic" speeds is the evidence of the shock wave accumulating in front of its direction of travel. It is the same shockwave that is created by a supersonic object in the atmosphere. That kind of shock wave - the sonic boom - develops because the object is traveling faster than the sound waves leaving it - the waves all get piled up in a cone extending behind the object. In the case of Mira, the same thing is happening, except that it's waves of stellar m
  • by slyborg (524607) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:01PM (#20244447)
    What a terrible headline and linked article. Mira is a famous red supergiant, the "name-star" of the Mira-class variables. Mira is one of the largest known stars and has been known to astronomers for at least 400 years. []
    • Minor correction: it is a red giant, not a red supergiant. Supergiants are very massive stars (on the order of 10 times the mass of the sun or more) which will eventually explode as supernovae. Ordinary red giants are evolved stars of more modest mass. Mira has a current mass of 1.2 solar masses (according to your Wikipedia link) and would have had an original (main sequence) mass of not much more.

      It probably has the largest apparent size (angular diameter) of any star except the sun, but it isn't "one of t
  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:07PM (#20244517)
    Newsflash: Our own Sun's velocity is 217 km/s (relative to the galactic center) and 20 km/s relative to the average speed of neighboring stars.

    For comparison, a "speeding bullet" slugs anywhere from around 1km/s (sniper rifle) to ~100m/s (short-barrel pistol).

    In addition, Wikipedia states that Mira's velocity is 63.8km/s -- which is actually slower than our own's sun (which has no "tail"), leading to two conclusions: (1) Mira's tail is caused by some other factor than it's velocity alone, and (2) Mira's speed is also so faster than a "speeding bullet" beyond comparison. In other words, the comparison is not just off-scale but also irrelevant.

    If you insist on using laymen's "cool-sounding" metaphors to describe scientific phenomena, at least check your facts and context, or you will just make a moron out of yourself.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by speedy.carr (878612)
      Even worse than the speeding bullet part is the section on this page(last paragraph) [] where it says that 'Coincidentally, Mira and its "whale of a tail" can be found in the tail of the whale constellation.' I think NASA just likes making dumb jokes and references in their media announcements.
    • by Kelz (611260) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:54PM (#20244895)
      Well anyway, the real question is:

      Is it more powerful than a locomotive?
      • by DeadChobi (740395) <> on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:20PM (#20245055)
        No, the REAL question is: Will it blend?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hugonz (20064)
        How many football fields would 13 light-years be?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Adambomb (118938)
          91.44 meters: length of an American football field, excluding end zones.

          1 light year = 9.4605284 × 10^15 meters.

          so 103461596675415.57305336832895888, or one hundred three trillion, four hundred sixty-one billion, five hundred ninety-six million, six hundred seventy-five thousand, four hundred fifteen-ish football fields per light year.

          which makes 13 light years 1345000756780402.4496937882764654, or one quadrillion, three hundred forty-five trillion, seven hundred fifty-six million, seven hundred eighty
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by CmdrGravy (645153)
            Perhaps an easier way of representing it is that if each football field was represented as a library of congress you would need 11,208,339 of them
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Adambomb (118938)
          Realized i forgot to account for the rest of the world.

          For Soccer Fields:

          Fifa approvable fields must be between 100m and 110m in length.

          so from 1229868692000000 to 1118062447272727.27, or one quadrillion, two hundred twenty-nine trillion, eight hundred sixty-eight billion, six hundred ninety-two million to one quadrillion, one hundred eighteen trillion, sixty-two billion, four hundred forty-seven million, two hundred seventy-two thousand, seven hundred twenty-seven fifa approved soccer fields.

          reaalllly slow
        • by ThePeices (635180)
          It would be approx 1.34x10^15 football fields, or 1.34 peta-american football fields.
      • Or, how many LoC's could it store?
      • by PyrotekNX (548525)
        And is it able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sholden (12227)
      Wikipedia may state that, the NASA press release claims it's travelling at 130 km/s, doesn't say what that's relative to but I would suspect the neighbourhood average (since there's a bow shock it has to be relative to that I would assume). Of course is could be relative to the ether and NASA keeping a rather large change in physics to themselves...

      Also note that NASA used the term supersonic.

    • because it is moving so slowly.
    • than our own's sun (which has no "tail")

      Of course our sun has a tail. It's moving and ejecting matter. It has to have a tail.
    • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:43PM (#20245195) Homepage
      Relax, I just edited the article on ballistics; now projectiles are fast enough so that these stars are in the ballpark as far as their velocities go.

      Hmm, I guess I better edit the article on stadiums so that they can accommodate solar-massed objects while I'm at it.
    • by rumith (983060)
      I think there is a misunderstanding on the submitter's side. Here's what NASA says []:

      The ultraviolet image shows a gigantic shock wave, called a bow shock, in front of the star, and an enormous, 13-light-year-long trail of turbulence in its wake.

      Further they note that this effect is much like the supesonic shock wave and the turbulent tail created by a bullet. The appropriate image is also available at the NASA site. I couldn't find a statement that it's fast as a bullet [which, as the parent rightfully shows, would be ridiculous].

    • How do we know this? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by justthinkit (954982)
      Mira's velocity is 63.8km/s -- which is actually slower than our own's sun (which has no "tail")

      Given that with Hubble we can only see "3 or 4 pixels" worth of Pluto (according to the last episode of Universe on the History channel), how do we know what debris we may or may not be leaving behind our solar system as we move through space?
    • Just a thought, even if you take gravity out of the equation, bullets are subject to drag.

      So as an analogy, in the relative vacuum of space, the former is true, and gravity can provide some measure of drag, even on a passing star. Assuming that those rules apply, could this star be decellarated, perhaps by gravitational pulls from neighboring stars, and/or dark matter? Another possibility is that the star also has a slower than normal rotation, so as it pokes along at a slower speed, it occasionally outgass
    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      In addition, Wikipedia states that Mira's velocity is 63.8km/s -

      Well, either, Wikipedia is wrong, or the guys at Galex, who actually did the work, are wrong, as they say [] Mira is traveling at approximately "130 kilometers per second" relative to the gas it's traveling through. And that, combined with Mira shedding it's outer layers as it expands and contracts, is why it has a tail.

      As for Sol, the reason it doesn't have a tail is:

      1) Unlike Mira, it's not a red giant sloughing off it's outer shell, and
      2) Sol
  • by SoapBox17 (1020345) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:32PM (#20244745) Homepage
    Who immediately thought of Jiminy Cricket?
  • [sarcasm] PFFFT!!..Everyone knows this is impossible, how can a star have a tail 30,000 light years in length when the whole of the Universe is only 10,000 years old [/sarcasm]
    • by gomoX (618462)
      SR doesn't mind the Universe expanding faster than light. You just can't see it do it.
    • by Bob-taro (996889)

      [sarcasm] PFFFT!!..Everyone knows this is impossible, how can a star have a tail 30,000 light years in length when the whole of the Universe is only 10,000 years old [/sarcasm]
      Maybe I missed something, but ... FTA:

      This artist's animation illustrates a star flying through our galaxy at supersonic speeds, leaving a 13-light-year-long trail of glowing material in its wake.
      I'm not sure where you got 30,000 light years.
      • by Bob-taro (996889)
        Great, I get to correct myself!

        Maybe I missed something ...
        Okay, the article projects the "age" of the tail as 30,000 years, so that's where the 30,000 came from.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:48PM (#20244843)
    That's funny. I just looked Mira up on Stellarium, and no matter how far I zoomed in, I couldn't find any trace of a tail at all.
  • Relative to what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mukund (163654) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @09:54PM (#20244887) Homepage
    Mira is traveling faster than a speeding bullet, relative to what object?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:09PM (#20244975)
      A speeding bullet, duh.
    • by quantaman (517394)

      Mira is traveling faster than a speeding bullet, relative to what object?

      Actually the speed (relative to anything) is irrelevant. A moving object will leave a tail in two scenarios:

      1) It's moving quickly relative to its medium (ie a wake left by a ship through water). Now there's no such thing as the ether but presumably there could be some magnetic or gravitational factor (a nearby black hole) that's stripping away material, maybe even some weird property of the solar system is causing it to spew out material in that direction.

      2) The star is accelerating and leaving bits behin

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:04PM (#20244957) Homepage Journal
    Reminds me of this Benford story []. Call it the Bullet!
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:39PM (#20245165)
    Pseudo-comet star, that is what you are
    Flying at supersonic speeds
    Though sound cannot propagate through a vacuum
    Tail lightyears long through outer space
    We know TFA will get the science wrong uh huh
    And the dupe will posted in a week uh huh
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I understand the speeding bullet thing, but could someone please explain the tail length to me in terms of football fields? I'm having trouble visualising it.
    • by trongey (21550)
      And, for those who were wondering: that would be ~27809148887081184 1969 Volkswagen buses.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:12PM (#20245355) Journal
    I usually choke when journalists do a bad job presenting science. Sometimes the tables get turned, and they quote exactly what's said. Unfortunately. So, in the spirit of equal chain jerking:

    From TFA as presented on MSNBC: "If Neanderthal man had ultraviolet eyes and could look above the atmosphere, he could have seen the beginning of this tail forming," study leader Chris Martin, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, said during a teleconference Wednesday.

    AWEsome, d00d.

    And, if they had ultraviolet eyes on 30,000 light year long eye stalks, they could not only see
    above the atmosphere, they could see the tail as it formed, RIGHT WHERE IT WAS HAPPENING.

    OH. OH. And if the DINOSAURS had ultraviolet eyes, and could see above the atmosphere, they could see it 65 million years BEFORE it happened. And they could probably also see that asteroid coming and build SPACESHIPS, no wait, SPACE DINOSAUR MOTORCYCLES, they could get off the planet before it got hit, and fly to that star and live there, and then 65 million years later all wag their tails at the same time and make the star shoot off gas and dust like a BIG TAIL that we could see, because they wanted to say hi and let us know they were all OK and we shouldn't be all sad because we thought they all got extincted.

    I guess we can't all be Carl Sagan. Because then there would be BIL..... nevermind.

  • Wouldn't the tail be formed by some other body's heliosphere? I'm sure there are billions of stars at the center of the galaxy with pretty rapid relative revolutions.
  • by mattr (78516) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @03:56AM (#20246673) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone notice this in tiny print? Usually NASA mentions satellite transponders but now (at least first time I noticed) they are mentioning Pathfire.

    Pathfire was bought out by DG Fast Channel in June. It seems they sell servers maybe and services too. It looks like what people call video press releases.

    Anyway is this a commercial service only open to news agencies? Anybody know?
    It doesn't make any sense, NASA should just dump it all onto a torrent so it can be watched with one of the new torrent film players that advertise open video, like Zudeo or Miro. I spent so much time once upon a time with CU-SeeMe to see NASA live video, and more recently saw interesting science discussions, but they really have very high quality television broadcast quality film they sell. Maybe HD too.

    Wouldn't it make more sense, in terms of saving money and making it more accessible, to just host a torrent? Certainly this DG feed is a hose into TV stations where they can patch in some shots if they want some filler, but to degrade NASA into that kind of video press release is just so bizarre! If anyone knows how to get this high quality video I'd like to see it. NASA needs to get with the times.

    Note to TV reporters: Broadcast quality video file (animation, images and sound bites) to accompany this story are available through the Pathfire distribution service.
  • Mira is traveling faster than a speeding bullet

    So, in astronomical terms, it's still moving at snail's pace ?

  • by crhylove (205956) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @06:18AM (#20247251) Homepage Journal
    It also sounds like the Galaxy is trying to defragment. I hope it doesn't corrupt our area. Though then we might finally have a space program worth a fuck. Never mind, sounds great!

  • I think a much more interesting question is: why is its path (tail) curved? Is it an artifact of imaging, Earth spin, a black hole in the center of the curvature?
  • "The More You Know...."
  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @09:10AM (#20248891)
    While looking at the image of this "Wondering Star", I started to think, "Why such a predictable pattern?" It makes sense that the matter is being left behind because the star is hitting something, (dark matter?), and the resulting reaction is the leaving behind of atoms that will eventually be pulled by relatively nearby stars. What is most interesting, is that this trail is not in the visible, but in the UV bandwidth. In the UV band width, are we looking at the speed of atoms being "drained" off? Could it be that the Star is traveling "Up Stream?", or is it in the way of a "Dark Matter" current?
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:56AM (#20250271) Journal
    TFA did speak:

    Mira is traveling faster than a speeding bullet, and has a tail that's 13 light-years long and over 30,000 years old.

    Hrrrmmm. OK. So, a light year is about 5,879,000,000,000 miles. []

    So, 13 light years would be 76,427,000,000,000 miles.

    Now divide that by 30,000 years and we get 2,547,566,666.667 miles. now there are 8,760 hours in a year, so if we divide 2,547,566,666.667 by 8,760, we get 290,818.113 miles per hour. Now, that IS fast, especially given the average asteroid skips along at 40,000 mph. But it's not THAT fast - it would take that star an hour to go from here to the moon. If it did it in 5 minutes - yeah, that's fast. But an hour? Heck - our feeble crappy spacecraft get there in a few days...


  • by tgeller (10260) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:28AM (#20250751) Homepage
    I wrote the news article for Nature. Here it is []. It'll be free for only a few days, so grab it while it's hot!
  • ... into Omikron Spermaceti??

If a subordinate asks you a pertinent question, look at him as if he had lost his senses. When he looks down, paraphrase the question back at him.