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Space Science

Aging Star System Leaves Strange Death Spiral 79

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 rbrander ( 73222 ) on Monday September 06, 2010 @08:24PM (#33493492) Homepage 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: [] ...and by the great Chesley Bonestell, who was doing astronomical paintings back before space travel, though this was in 1978:,%20Double%20Star.jpg []

  • 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!
  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Monday September 06, 2010 @09:35PM (#33493922)

    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 actually do a lot more complicated things too. I know more about the de-biasing process for Near Earth Asteroids, and these can be very complex combinations of observational results and a priori knowledge. The models I've used most (developed by Bottke et. al.) did numerical monte carlo simulations of how asteroids move from the main belt into the NEA range, to understand the way individual sources lead them to distributed, and then combined this with observational results, as well as knowledge of detection biases (easier to see them closer and at opposition) to back out an estimate of the relative contribution of each source region.

    Most people involved know their data is spotty and limited, and a lot of work goes into accounting for the limitations and extracting as much information as possible from what they do have.

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra