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Space Science

Dying Star Mimics Our Sun's Death 149

Posted by kdawson
from the telltale-heart dept.
coondoggie writes "In about 5 billion years, our Sun will face a nasty death. Scientists with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics this week released dramatic new pictures of a dying star much like the Sun, about 550 light-years from Earth. According to the researchers, Chi Cygni has swollen in size to become a red giant star so large that if it were in our solar system it would swallow every planet out to Mars and cook the asteroid belt. The star has started to pulse dramatically, beating like a giant heart with a period of 408 days." The research team produced a video of the pulsating star, using infrared images captured via very long baseline interferometry.
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Dying Star Mimics Our Sun's Death

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:01AM (#30454876)

    Mom, he won't stop saying whatever I say!

  • Do we care? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by iamacat (583406)

    We'll be long gone - either in spacial or temporal sense - in a tiny fraction of that time. Even if there are no asteroid impact, killer viruses and so on, we will eventually deplete all natural resources - including ones need to make solar cells and wind turbines - and release enough long-lasting pollutants to make life unsustainable. So, an interesting astronomical curiosity, but no impact on our distant descendants. Now lets go work on being gone spacialy.

    • Re:Do we care? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:10AM (#30454910) Homepage Journal

      Sometimes we study things just to scratch an itch, or possibly because the object under study might be of indirect relevance to us [wikipedia.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      and release enough long-lasting pollutants to make life unsustainable.

      Huh? I might buy that we could kill ourselves off but it seems to be giving us too much credit to assume that we could kill off all life on this rock. Life has been around in one form or another for billions of years and has survived far more cataclysmic events than anything we could ever hope to dish out.

      • by druuna (1097839)
        I beg to differ....

        If humans destroy the ozone layer, everything living dies and a bare rock going approximately 107278.87 km/h is all that is left.
        • by Shakrai (717556)

          Really? Everything you say? I didn't know UV could penetrate thousands of feet of seawater....

        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          Except for things living under water... It really is quite hard to kill a planet full of life.
        • by SBrach (1073190)
          Thanks for doing your part to save the planet by posting to slashdot with a typewriter instead of a power wasting computer. Your sacrifices are appreciated.
      • by Gerafix (1028986)
        The Vogons didn't seem to have much trouble destroying Earth.
      • by Spatial (1235392)

        Life has been around in one form or another for billions of years and has survived far more cataclysmic events than anything we could ever hope to dish out.

        Most of it didn't survive.

        • by Golddess (1361003)
          ...And? What was your point with that? Are you implying that the # of species was fixed at the beginning of time and each time a species goes extinct we move one step closer to extinguishing all life forever because new species can never emerge?

          Yes yes, I know of the phrase "over 90% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct" (or something to that extent). But all that says is along the line of "9 million years ago, there were 100 different species on this planet. 8 million years ago, all
    • Disagree. I think a small human population (in the millions) will be around on Earth to witness the event.
      I don't think the planet will be healthy enough for 7 billion of us, but I also don't think it will be poisoned enough to drop the population to 0 before Sol expires.
      I also think we'll be content in sending bacteria to other worlds rather than humans - they are a much more resilient and adaptable species really - humans are too dependent on a tight range of environmental co

      • Let's hope that they're the last of the religious humans. What better way to rapture than to be taken by
        the sun / god / $PARENTAL_FIGURE ?
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Even if - there won't be much difference in relation to current faiths (assuming also that there would be any humans left - those are two immense "if"). Just look at our historical record - mythologies don't survive even few thousands years, even when we do have good record of them.

          They are just becoming fairytales for adherents of mythologies prevalent at given time (little do they realize that it will be the same with theirs...)

          Add to the above that we have no way of determining the state, type of society

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        I think you have a hard time (as all of us do) imagining the time periods involved. There was even no mammals 1/10th of that 5 billion years ago; heck, life hadn't really colonized land yet.

        And anyway, the Sun is slowly becoming brighter as time passes; in around 1 billion years theere will be no oceans left on Earth, no biosphere.

      • Re:Do we care? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @07:48AM (#30455928) Homepage

        The Sun is slowly getting hotter (over timescales of hundreds of millions of years) due to changes in the composition of its core. In about one billion years this increase in temperature will be enough to have boiled off Earth's oceans making Earth a dead planet. This will happen long before the Sun becomes a red giant, so unfortunately there will be no humans around to witness it, unless if we leave first and pay a visit to watch Sol's demise.

        • by dryeo (100693)

          Another option is moving the Earth. Seems I've read that moving it close to the orbit of Mars will buy us a few billion more years.
          For a bonus we could put Mars into orbit around the Earth.

          • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

            Moving the Earth would help, but it would need to be a gradual thing, done at the rate of something like a few kilometres per century in order to maintain a nearly constant insolation. I doubt that we would need to move out as far as Mars. As for putting Mars in orbit around the Earth, tides would be a big problem. It would make for some great romantic evenings though.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by dryeo (100693)

              Right now the only way known to move the Earth would involve repeated close flybys with an asteroid which would by its nature be very slow. Something that would need to be started soon in a geological sense.
              I don't think tides would be too much of a problem if Mars was orbiting at maybe 3 times the distance of the Moon or whatever distance would be roughly equal gravitationally to the Moon.
              Of course we would probably have to move the Moon as well to make the orbital mechanics simpler depending on how far th

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Disagree. I think a small human population (in the millions) will be around on Earth to witness the event.

        I don't think the future humans will call themselves homo sapiens sapiens within a half a million years, let alone few billion. Whatever the species will be which will witness the event form sufficient distance, they need to be able to live past the event for it to have some significance.
        Our beloved Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda in about 2 billion years like an intergalactic ejaculation. If the Earth has not been sterilized by asteroids by then, perhaps the radiation resulting from the collisio

      • by bradbury (33372)

        I might suggest that you study the technology a bit more. The Earth can support a much large population than 7 billion people using bio/nanotechnology to its full extent. The biotechnology foundation is already in our hands and the nanotechnology foundation is being developed. If the population drops to zero it will be because of our own stupidity and focus on the short term rather than the long term view.

        We would never send bacteria on interstellar voyages. Yes there are some which are hardy enough to

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Do we know whether we should care? With what certainty?

      Not studying that which is far can be dangerous, as ignorance of the reality can bring ignorance about the very distance that made us disregard that knowledge.

    • Everything Dies Rose, Everything Dies.....

      Sadly the only Humans around to witness the death of earth will be a bitchy trampoline and temporally displaced young girl who is the traveling companion of a rather creepy 900 year old man....

      But they will play "I want to get away" by softcell and "Toxic" by Britney Spears and the sun expands and burns earth to a crisp....

  • Older than dirt (Score:1, Insightful)

    by iamapizza (1312801)
    1) We learned about this in school
    2) The picture is an artist's conception, I didn't see multiple pictures in TFA.
    3) ???
    4) Profit
    • Re:Older than dirt (Score:5, Insightful)

      by uid7306m (830787) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:42AM (#30455022)

      Yeah, the crime of the modern educational system is that it produces people who know all the answers and have no sense of wonder. That "older than dirt" guy probably looks at a computer and only sees a white box.

      You should look at a computer and see the thread of execution hopping between kernel routines and pausing at mutexes. You should see the electrons whooshing through the silicon, underneath an overhanging crystalline gate electrode. You should feel the electric field sucking at you: it's almost strong enough to rip electrons out of the SiO2 dielectric. And back up at higher level, those spin locks should be like an amusement park ride: puke your guts out if you go around in one for more than a few microseconds. :)

      Yah, we knew stars became red giants. But that's not the right way to look at it.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        xkcd has a similar idea: Abstraction [xkcd.com]

      • by daveime (1253762)

        Hey, that's the script for Tron.

        Now where did I leave my de-rezzed bike and neon strobe jumpsuit ?

      • ObXKCD (Score:2, Interesting)

        by AlecC (512609)

        http://xkcd.com/676/ [xkcd.com] which happens to appear with exquisite timing

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        I'm a geezer, but I agree with you -- but it's not geezers that see a computer as a black box, it's those uneducated in its workings. How many young people do you know that have programmed in assembly?

        And I think you missed his main point, that the article's headline was disingenuous at least. If they have photos, why show an artist's conception? As he said, TFA didn't say anything I didn't read about when I was seven, and that was fifty years ago.

        TFA is pure bunk. It's only good point is that you can googl

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You should look at a computer and see the thread of execution hopping between kernel routines and pausing at mutexes. You should see the electrons whooshing through the silicon, underneath an overhanging crystalline gate electrode. You should feel the electric field sucking at you: it's almost strong enough to rip electrons out of the SiO2 dielectric. And back up at higher level, those spin locks should be like an amusement park ride: puke your guts out if you go around in one for more than a few microseconds. :)

        You might want to stop tripping acid when you use your computer...

    • by uid7306m (830787)

      Rated "insightful"? Claiming that astronomy is done for profit?

    • by master_p (608214)

      The exact same picture was used in other sites as an artist's conception of Betelgeuse...

    • Older than dirt!? So what, this could happen like any moment then??

  • by fearlezz (594718) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:13AM (#30454926) Homepage

    So in about 5 billion years we won't hear all that global warming talk anymore?
    Great!

    • by Shakrai (717556)

      I assure you it will be pretty warm when the Sun turns into a Red Giant.

    • by rhook (943951)
      Everyone will be talking about solar warming by then.
    • by edremy (36408)
      In all seriousness the Sun is gradually getting brighter, and the increased heat will kill off Earth's biosphere long before it gets to the red giant phase. We only have 1-2 billion years tops, not 5.

      You may now panic

  • We humans will destroy earth and Life much before this Star Life process gets its chance to do so. I wished to die the star way...
  • Isnt something we are seeing in the movie of 2012. Nothing to panic we humans would destroy the earth lot before by global warming therefore essential for us to have a solution for global warming.
  • Is an asterid belt some new meal from Burger King or something?
  • Weird video...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qinjuehang (1195139) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:35AM (#30455006) Homepage
    It really really looks like a elliptical eclipsing binary, with one dim red giant, and a bright smaller white star. Note: The video is false color.
    • by Katchu (1036242)
      Those were my thoughts, also. There is something asymmetrical about it and I can't imagine anything that would cause such a roiling, yet periodic, effect.
      • If it were really a star pulsating, shouldn't it show irregular patches? I mean, granulation in our sun is not static over a year... Thus I believe they are overlooking the obvious.
        • by MBGMorden (803437)

          At that distance I'm not sure that we can really detect any variation in surface appearance. It's more just vague shape, color, and brightness.

          • What disturbes me is how the "hotspot" appears in the same location every cycle. It would of course make sense if the poles are hotter, but that the poles are significantly hotter doesn't make sense in itself, given the convection going on in most stars, and that hot gases/plasma would move to areas of lower gravity, in other words, the equator. And that the pole sticking out, implying a cigar-shaped star at peak brightness (whereas centripetal force should make it an oblate sphere bulging in equatorial dir
    • Re:Weird video...? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @07:20AM (#30455746)

      I assume that the star is tilted relative to us and there's some anisotropy of the atmosphere due to its oblate shape. If the poles were hotter and one was tilted at us, I guess.

    • NERD!
    • RTFA: “Observations by the Infrared Optical Telescope Array found that, at minimum radius, Chi Cygni shows marked inhomogeneities due to roiling "hotspots" on its surface.”

      Of course, that is only a theory, too.

  • Link to images, etc. (Score:5, Informative)

    by severn2j (209810) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:11AM (#30455094)
    For those that cant follow links to the source, the images/mov and artists impression is here

    http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2009/pr200923_images.html
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Our sun hasn't died yet, so shouldn't it be the other way around? In a few billion years, our sun will mimic the death of this star.

    Alright, I'm done being pedantic now.

    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      Depends. That's only the case if you think of time as a linear progression. We certainly perceive it as that, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily so. A brick falling to the ground perceives up and down to be a linear progression over which is has no control, but to the outside observer they're independent points that can be moved between as one wishes.

      If time is the same outside of our frame of reference (ie, if t is just another axis that can be adjusted much like we perceive x, y, and z to be), then

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Our sun hasn't died yet, so shouldn't it be the other way around?

      The next Final Fantasy game should include a new character(-class): the Reverse Mimic! They mimic what another character is going to do. Which would really mean the Reverse Mimic would do something the character could, and then that character has no choice but to do that when their turn came up.

      If they wanted to play it like a joke character, the RM would always use the most useless abilities, or do things like always cast Doom on bosses.

  • by ignavus (213578) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @06:08AM (#30455308)

    It's alright. The Yellowstone Caldera will blow up long before then and kill us all. So we won't be around to face the heat death of the Sun.

    It is good to know these things.

    • by mdm-adph (1030332)

      Nah, we've survived supervolcano eruptions before as a species, and that was when we were still living in caves and bashing women over the heads with sticks (not that Republicans have ever stopped).

  • It has nothing to do with TFA but it just occured to me - do we know of any system where the central body is not a star (or a more massive object), for example let's imagine Jupiter in place of the Sun?
    Would it be possible to detect this kind of system at all?

    • by Jkasd (1663231)
      In a binary star system, the center of mass could be relatively empty if the stars are close to the same mass. But since gravity is what keeps the whole system together, the most massive object will tend to be in the center. If you somehow switched the sun and Jupiter, the sun would become the new center again, while everything else would chaotically fall back into new orbits around it.
    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      Yes - brown dwarfs. Essentially matter can start to clump together anywhere. Sometimes it clumps in large amounts, sometimes smaller.

      If the object at the center of the system accretes enough mass to being nuclear fusion then it is a star, with the smallest being red dwarfs (stars then change colors and size as they become more massive - they also have shorter "lives" as they grow more massive).

      Sometimes though the accretion of matter is insufficient to begin fusion, and you get a brown dwarf, which is bas

  • Disfactual SD FUD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:06AM (#30456452) Journal

    The folks at Harvard-Smithsonian and IOTA did some fine work. It could have been reported as they presented it and been very interesting science. When it gets filtered through a fake science reporting agent like Science Daily, and rewritten by one of said agent's fiction writers with only enough relevant background to make them capable of finding FUDish material that wouldn't be entirely inapplicable, the result is something that should have been rejected by the only places to which it should have been submitted: Hollywood movie producers.

    The sun is a nearly a dwarf star. It will undergo a very mild death compared to larger stars. They will nova or supernova, but the sun will placidly swell to a red giant, pulse as it burns out, then shrink to white dwarf. Only true dwarf stars will undergo a milder demise, skipping the red giant phase. No amount of mediocre Hollywood scifi horrification and awfulism will change the fact that our mild mannered stellar companion has no evil supervillian alter ego waiting to take over at its end of days. Adding such extraneous comic book (as opposed to the more respectable graphic fiction) "reporting" is only done by a writer, or at the behest of an editor or publisher, who have no confidence in the science itself or their reportage of it being sufficiently interesting. rather than risk being factual for a readership interested in such things, they attempt to draw in a greater audience with an interest and education in science equal to that of the author's writing style, with the assumption that by adding the pseudo-scientific car wreck material they can get that larger audience to slow down and rubber neck at the bloody mess of hyperbole spray painted over the facts.

    SD is as useful and accurate a source for science as The Economist, which has also been quoted here for similarly poor reasons. Slashdotters are for the most part sophisticated enough to be able to appreciate the facts without having to viddy the horrorshow while sipping a bit of the moloko plus (obSFref, Clockwork Orange). Th remainder, while not so inclined to factualism in science, are still so invariably capable when it comes to traditional /. reply banter that an article consisting of raw data would likely end up in a verbal tsunami repleat with references to Microsoft, Google and MafIAA (blaming them for the stellar death no doubt) and welcoming our Red Giant Overlords and their Soviet Russian Beowulf Clusters.

    The very worst part of this example of poor writing in lieu of science journalism is being kept separate because it has nothing to do with science. Something that is happening now (or being observed now, relatively speaking) does not and can not mimic something that will happen in the future, whether that be in 5 billion years, or next week when you accept a job writing equally badly for an outlet equally unwilling to risk actual factual journalism. Unless, of course, one an say that one's present insufficient income from writing such trash mimics the income one will receive in the future when one continues of a career path of writing badly for outlets intentionally presenting said trash. All the more reason to stay in school, kids, and if you quit, go back.

    Now, I don't expect /. readers to follow Astrophysical Journal and the like in order to get unadulterated science to report on here. But I would hope that the submitters and editors would at least acknowledge the quality of the sources by presenting them such as "With their typical crunchy coating of fiction, fact mangling and FUD surrounding a center of creamy scientific nougat still untouched by science journalists' hands, Science Daily reassures us that it is 'an excellent driver' while setting fire to and waving madly an interesting article" dot dot dot.

  • From TFS (Score:4, Funny)

    by electricbern (1222632) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:26AM (#30456614)

    beating like a giant heart with a period

    What a bloody mess.

  • I panicked (Score:2, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665)

    I panicked for a moment - I thought it said five million.

    • I panicked for a moment - I thought it said five million.

      The homo sapiens species has only been around roughly 500,000 years [wikipedia.org]. Human civilization, from its absolutely earliest form, has only been around for about 14,000 years. [wikipedia.org]

      Even if it said five million, I dont think that would be reason to panic. That's a really, really long time. Although maybe that's the joke you were trying to make, and I'm too dense to get it.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:58AM (#30456958)
    I saw the "Dying Star" in the headline and thought this article was about Lindsay Lohan.
  • by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@umic3.14159h.edu minus pi> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @10:10AM (#30457076)

    Just a minor correction. the scientists did use interferometry but it was not "very long baseline interferometry". The "very long" term applies to the telescopes being separated by extreme distances, say over the entire United States as is the case of the VLBA. Also, the VLBA can only function in radio wavelengths because the data can be taken at the individual telescopes an recombined later. With near-infrared interferometry, what the authors of this study were using, requires that the light from each telescope be sent down an optical tube with mirrors and recombined at a central location which constrains the IOTA telescopes to be close together.

    IOTA was dismantled a few years ago, geiven that a new optical/near-infrared interferometry was coming online, CHARA http://www.chara.gsu.edu/CHARA/ [gsu.edu]

    • by radtea (464814)

      Thanks for the info! The article was unclear on that, as on much else. I particularly liked that "stars are really far away" was given as the second reason for this kind of imaging being difficult, as if the extreme distances didn't make this sort of thing completely impossible until a decade or so ago.

      The video is wonderful, and accounting for the persistent asymmetry in the early expansion phase will no doubt result in a more detailed understanding of the oscillation mechanism of these stars. First rat

    • by bradbury (33372)

      Yes, but the question is *why* can the data be recombined in radio astronomy and not IR astronomy. I would think if its just a problem of having the actual light waves then it would be as easy as running an ultra-high purity fiber optic cable between the two observatories. But if radio detectors can measure the frequencies sufficiently then why aren't we at the stage where IR or light detectors could as well?

      • by Agripa (139780)

        Yes, but the question is *why* can the data be recombined in radio astronomy and not IR astronomy. I would think if its just a problem of having the actual light waves then it would be as easy as running an ultra-high purity fiber optic cable between the two observatories. But if radio detectors can measure the frequencies sufficiently then why aren't we at the stage where IR or light detectors could as well?

        We currently can manipulate radio and microwave frequencies much better than even long infrared. In

  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @10:34AM (#30457312)
    A hugely expanded sun would be a hot, tenuous gas by the time it expands to earth orbit. People could acutal live in it with minor protection. But the hot gas would relentlessly erode anything on the earth's surface. And eventually it would corrode away the earth itself after millions of years.
  • Porn star? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @10:54AM (#30457540)

    New close-up photos of the surface of this distant star show its throbbing motions in unprecedented detail.

    Rule 34, baby!!

  • A presently dying star cannot mimic the death of our own star, since it has not happened yet. How about using "foreshadows" instead?
  • I thought that "Artists Conception" looked oddly familiar. Then I remembered this; http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/Discoveries/2009/0729/are-astronomers-watching-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-betelgeuse [csmonitor.com]

    I seem to remember it was also in a Slashdot article [slashdot.org] that references this [astronomynow.com].

    Uhm... so which is it, people? Or is it just clip art?

  • Here's something I don't get about the universe - maybe someone more well versed in astronomy or physics could educate me. The universe itself seems to be a fundamentally unsustainable system, dying from the moment it was 'born'. So far, I don't believe we've found any star that has been around "forever" and hasn't burned itself out yet, and I don't think we've seen any new ones created recently either (correct me if I'm wrong on either count).

    Granted, 5 billion years is a long time when compared to the
    • by argent (18001)

      New stars are continually created out of interstellar dust and gas. You can see "shells" of new stars forming at the edges of supernova remnants as the supernova's shock-wave compresses the interstellar medium.

      This can't go on forever, obviously, but second and third generation stars are common. Our sun is one of them.

  • The problem with the /. lead-in and the SD article quoting an astronomer is that THEY ARE BOTH PROBABLY WRONG! I have this problem all the time when I see shows on the Discovery Channel or the Science Channel where they explain how the sun *will* die in 5 billion years (The implicit assumption is that the current natural laws of physics will apply for that period -- and within an intelligent species framework that may be completely false. What they SHOULD be saying is "The sun, if allowed to continue on

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