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Space Science

Aging Star System Leaves Strange Death Spiral 79

Posted by Soulskill
from the tox-utaht-spotted dept.
jamie tips a post at Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog about an extremely unusual astronomical phenomenon originating from a binary system about 3000 light years away. Quoting: "The name of this thing is AFGL 3068. It's been known as a bright infrared source for some time, but images just showed it as a dot. This Hubble image using the Advanced Camera for Surveys reveals an intricate, delicate and exceedingly faint spiral pattern. ... Red giants tend to blow a lot of their outer layers into space in an expanding spherical wind; think of it as a super-solar wind. The star surrounds itself with a cloud of this material, essentially enclosing it in a cocoon. In general the material isn't all that thick, but in some of these stars there is an overabundance of carbon in the outer layers which gets carried along in these winds. ... AFGL 3068 is a carbon star and most likely evolved just like this, but with a difference: it's a binary. As the two stars swing around each other, the wind from the carbon star doesn't expand in a sphere. Instead, we see a spiral pattern as the material expands."
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Aging Star System Leaves Strange Death Spiral

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  • by CarpetShark (865376) on Monday September 06, 2010 @07:32PM (#33493190)

    Strange Death Spiral

    What? Doesn't everyone know this is due to The Last Starfighter?

  • Amazing! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 06, 2010 @07:36PM (#33493226)

    That's the coolest thing I've seen in a while, and how fortunate that it's oriented just right for us to see! Good to know there's always an inexhaustible supply of strange, bizarre things out there.

  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday September 06, 2010 @07:36PM (#33493230)
    Given that the only way we could see this amazing sight is it to be "flat" to us in our line of sight, if it was side on we would never see this in the glory that is there to be seen.

    Makes me wonder the same thing about all the planet hunters and exo-planets that we are finding - how many more would we be able to find if it didn't rely on having just the right angle from our vantage point...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      Given that the only way we could see this amazing sight is it to be "flat" to us in our line of sight...

      It's an amazing coincidence that it is flat on, but we'd still see it if it was at an angle. It' would just look oval rather than round. It would have to be nearly edge-on to be invisible.

      Makes me wonder the same thing about all the planet hunters and exo-planets that we are finding - how many more would we be able to find if it didn't rely on having just the right angle from our vantage point...

      Ass

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shermo (1284310)

        Would you expect it to be random? Assuming we're looking at our own galaxy, would you expect some preference for orientation w.r.t. the galaxy's plane of rotation?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by yotto (590067)

          Until we know a lot of them, we simply don't know. However, considering the galactic plane is tilted with respect to our own ecliptic, I suspect the working theory is that no, the two have little to nothing to do with each other.

          I'd be curious the percentages of stars that a mission like Kepler is looking at, that actually have planets transiting them. And if that percentage is roughly equal to what you'd expect with a random distribution of ecliptics. It would not surprise me in the least if the numbers ma

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Until we know a lot of them, we simply don't know. However, considering the galactic plane is tilted with respect to our own ecliptic, I suspect the working theory is that no, the two have little to nothing to do with each other.

            About 85 degrees, so almost perpendicular in fact. Which is quite handy for Kepler, since it can look down our Sagittarius arm without worrying about the sun (or anything else in the solar system) getting in the way.

            Personally, I'm guessing the galactic picture looks a lot like our

          • I'd be very surprised if the numbers matched. Kepler is not expected to detect planets on every star that has a planet with the right angle, there are some other restrictions, like orbit period and size.

            Based on our Solar System alone, I'd guess that it is quite rare for a star to have a planetary system that Kepler could detect. My guess is already wrong ;)

    • by MollyB (162595) on Monday September 06, 2010 @08:04PM (#33493390) Journal

      Makes me wonder the same thing about all the planet hunters and exo-planets that we are finding - how many more would we be able to find if it didn't rely on having just the right angle from our vantage point...

      There are many ways [wikipedia.org] to detect extrasolar planets besides the angle of our line of sight. And, as the above poster noted, they've probably got those weird angles figured out, too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Fortunately some of the most valuable data from planet hunts isn't from the individual discoveries, but rather the overall statistics of the likelihood of planet formation. You can account for known biases (i.e. Kepler will only see a fraction of the planetary systems it could due to the geometry of the occultations,) and back out the true statistics.

      While it should be fairly simple in this case (assuming theres not a correlation between the plane of a system and its likelihood of forming planets), you can

    • All of them.
  • the close star you can see on the right, how big is it actually in the image? Is it smaller than a pixel, and the bright light just bleeds into the surrounding pixels, or is it actually about the same size as the white circle that can be seen?

    • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Monday September 06, 2010 @07:57PM (#33493350) Homepage

      It's a point. What you're seeing is lens flare and glare in the optics. The only star whose surface has been resolved into a disk is Betelgeuse, a red giant star located in Orion.

      • by bunratty (545641) on Monday September 06, 2010 @07:59PM (#33493356)
        And Sol of course.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by NetNed (955141)
        You know if you say Betelgeuse two more times that creepy pervert from the after life will appear, so be careful!.

        AHHHHH DAM, I said it once so if it is said one more time, the self proclaimed "Ghost with the most" will show up. You have been warned!
      • by NetNed (955141)
        BTW, on a serious note, if it was a lens flare or glare why isn't it appearing like the star next to it that seems to be suffering from those effects?
        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          Massive difference in overall brightness, probably due to the brighter one being much closer (relatively speaking).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by WalksOnDirt (704461)

          The star with the spiral is behind a self produced dust cloud. It makes it look more dramatic.

      • I'm not even sure it has a lens. According to TFA, the bars are caused by diffraction from support legs inside.

        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          Yeah, very good point, I forgot to mention that effect, as well. The Hubble is a Cassegrain-style reflector, whereby, much like in a Newtonian reflector, the primary mirror reflects light back to a secondary mirror (in a Cassegrain-style scope, the light path is folded back on itself, whereas in a Newtonian scope, the secondary reflects the light at a right angle). But this means the secondary mirror must be supported by something, and in the case of the Hubble, that's a system of trusses, thus resulting

  • This picture was created from images from the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys on Hubble. Images through a yellow filter (F606W, coloured blue) were combined with images through a near-infra red filter (F804W, coloured red). The exposure times were 11 minutes and 22 minutes respectively and the field of view spans about 80 arcseconds.

    Did they download the image and someone said "hey, let's run this through PhotoShop and see what pops up when we mess with the filters."?

    • by pastyM (1580389)
      I am not to sure but I think the filters they are using are lens filters on Hubble not the software editing kind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Basically every picture you see from space gets that treatment. They take pictures using cameras with bandpass filters in the optics, then simply assign 2 or 3 channels to colors if there's more than 1 channel. Unless they want an "as it might be seen" picture they won't use R/G/B filters.
  • ...strange death spiral indeed.

  • There seems to be a lot of lens flare in the image. Almost as if they used a star-cross filter on their lens. But that would be really silly, so I'm sure they didn't. Is it really that hard to stop the light from bleeding everywhere, or did they give the image a little pep before releasing it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're taking really long exposures with a very sensitive sensor at the limits of engineering. The star on the right many have an incoming photon flux thousands to millions of times of the faint binary system. So the relative exposure means what little diffraction effects from the reflector mountings and aperture builds up a large lens flare over time on the bright stars.

    • by sulliwan (810585)
      It's not lens flare, they're diffraction spikes. They're not completely useless, as a rule of thumb, something with spikes = a star, without spikes = a galaxy.
  • by rbrander (73222) on Monday September 06, 2010 @08:24PM (#33493492) Homepage

    ...at least according to Larry Niven, in "The Soft Weapon" (1967) which was remade into a Star Trek cartoon script "The Slaver Weapon".

    "There was smoke across the sky, a trail of red smoke wound in a tight spiral coil..." - one of the first "Interstellar Tourist Attractions".

    It's been depicted in fan art:

    http://www.scifi-az.com/dixon/ddbetalyrae.htm [scifi-az.com] ...and by the great Chesley Bonestell, who was doing astronomical paintings back before space travel, though this was in 1978:

    http://www.noreascon.org/retroart/images/Bonestell,%20Double%20Star.jpg [noreascon.org]

  • Galaxies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by telomerewhythere (1493937) on Monday September 06, 2010 @09:30PM (#33493890)
    Looking at that picture full resolution provided by bad astronomer, there are quite a few galaxies hanging around in the background. Awesome!
  • Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb! That's the Gurren-dan way!

  • I didn't read the summary very closely and assumed this was about the death of big record companies!
  • links, paper (Score:4, Informative)

    by melikamp (631205) on Monday September 06, 2010 @11:51PM (#33494686) Homepage Journal

    ESA page with the full-size image. [spacetelescope.org]

    Paper [pdf] [spacetelescope.org] by Mark Morris, Raghvendra Sahai, Keith Matthews, Judy Cheng, Jessica Lu, Mark Claussen and Carmen Sanchez-Contreras.

    Abstract. [some formatting may be lost] The extreme carbon star, AFGL 3068, is losing mass at a rate in excess of 104 M yr1 , and has so far been detected only in the infrared because it is hidden by a thick dust photosphere having a color temperature of 300K. Using the ACS camera on HST, we have imaged AFGL 3068 with broad-band lters at 0.6 and 0.8 m and nd a thin, apparently continuous spiral arc winding 4 or 5 times around the location of the star, from angular radii of 2 to 10 arcsec. We interpret this as the projection of nested spiral shells such as were predicted to occur when the mass-losing star is a member of a binary system. In this case, the illumination is presumably provided by ambient galactic starlight. Subsequent near-IR observations with the NIRC2 camera on the Keck II telescope using adaptive optics reveal that AFGL 3068 has two components separated by 0.11 arcsec, or 109 AU at a distance of 1 kpc. One very red component is presumably the mass-losing carbon star, while the other component is apparently a much bluer companion. Assuming each component has mass M(M ), and ignoring the projection of the separation vector, we nd the binary period to be 810 M0.5 yrs, strikingly comparable to the 710-yr separation of the shells obtained from the known outow velocity of 14.7 km s1 .

  • ... shuffling off its mortal coil.

  • This is a story about Hollywood, right?

  • Wonder how much - if any - of the spiral emanating from that carbon star is in the form of diamonds? Lucy in the sky, indeed.
  • I'm surprised this [thesun.co.uk] hasn't been posted yet... you guys are slacking.

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