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Space Science

Dying Star Weaves a Trillion-Mile-Wide Spiral In the Sky 46

The Bad Astronomer writes "Using the newly-commissioned ALMA radio observatory, astronomers have taken detailed images of one of the most amazing objects in the sky: the red giant R Sculptoris (abstract). As the star dies, it undergoes gigantic seizures beneath its surface that blast out waves of gas and dust from the surface. These normally expand into a spherical shell, but the presence of a nearby companion star changes things. The combined orbits of the two stars fling out the material like a garden sprinkler, forming enormous and incredibly beautiful spiral arms. Measuring the size and shape of the spiral shows the last eruption was 1800 years ago, lasted for nearly two centuries, and expelled enough material to make a thousand earths."
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Dying Star Weaves a Trillion-Mile-Wide Spiral In the Sky

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  • :P (Score:5, Funny)

    by CosaNostra Pizza Inc ( 1299163 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:23PM (#41611293)
    That's nothing. I could do that as a kid with Spirograph. :P
  • You can call that beautiful if you want. Ewww!

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:36PM (#41611433) Homepage Journal

    Could someone please put that in more standard units, such as either VW beetles if they're talking about mass, or Olympic-sized swimming pools, if they're talking about volume?

    • If everything moves to the metric system how will we measure things without units like

      - libraries of congress
      - earths
      - olympic sized swimming pools
      - shittons (although there are metric shittons)


      • by Anonymous Coward

        If everything moves to the metric system how will we measure things without units like...

        Aside from that, I couldn't give >0.3 millifucks.

    • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:30PM (#41612115)
      Our modern metric system was long ago based on:
      one meter is equal to one ten-millionth of the length of the Earth's meridian along a quadrant through Paris.
      And the old definition of a gram was:
      the absolute weight of a volume of water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of the meter, at the temperature of melting ice.

      So technically our measurement for length is based on the size of the earth. And our measurement for mass is based on our measurement for length and there-by indirectly based on the size of the earth. So using the earth as a unit of measurement is perfecting in line with the metric system. Even if we have, in recent years refined those measurements using light waves and such so we can apply them to nonsense like atoms.

      I guess I'm nitpicking, but so are you ;-p
      • by TheSkepticalOptimist ( 898384 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:49PM (#41612397)

        So the metric system is based on science, while the Imperial system is based on the crap someone could find in their near vicinity to measure with, like the nearest stone, hand, foot, or how long their horse could ride before working up a sweat. I would suggest then the modern Imperial measurement system is based on American football field lengths, amount of concrete in a sidewalk between New York and Chicago, Phelps sized swimming pools, and how far their Hemi V8 engine can drive before requiring a tank-up. You know, the stuff God gave us to measure with instead of some bullshit sciencey mumbo-jumbo.

        • Well, no... they were both based on nonsense to begin with. The original meter was probably just an arm length or something silly. The only reason the metric system makes more sense is because it's base 10, which is what our common numerical system is based on. The only reason that base 10 is common is because we have 10 fingers. So the metric system is common because people could count on their fingers to make sense of it easier. I don't think that makes it more "Scientific", it just makes it so you don't
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            It's not just base 10, but also has units that are all interrelated. Good luck figuring out how many cubic inches are in a gallon.
        • How come you're posting in English, rather then Esperanto or Loglan? Remember, all natural human language is based on "the crap someone could find in their near vicinity"?
    • Earth's mass, roughly enough to remember easily: 6x10^24 kg

      Don't forget to renew your geek card...

      • Earth is 100 mole of 1kg masses!

        Or, approximately 1000 mole of Townsend's moles.

        Does that help? No? Okay.

        • Did I just get Avogadro's Number wrong by a factor of 10?

          Anyone have a Bat'leth I can commit geek seppuku with?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )
      Old Beetles or new Beetles?
  • FTA:

    ... Others fade away slowly over hundreds of billions of years, longer than the cosmos has been around.

    Is it just me or does that not make sense?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I presumed that it meant that they will fade away for hundreds of billions of years (into the future).

      • I presumed that it meant that they will fade away for hundreds of billions of years (into the future).

        I see, it was just me then. Thanks.

    • Re:older than itself (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:48PM (#41611577) Homepage Journal

      Is it just me or does that not make sense?

      The universe is a little younger than 14 billion years old. If it takes a hundred billion years for a star to fade away, that's six times the length the universe has existed up to this point.

  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:24PM (#41612015) Homepage Journal

    I can't do Libraries of Congress for linear distance, but I think there's something better than a trillion miles.

    So I asked Google for "1 trillion miles in au". An astronomical unit (1 AU) is the Sun-to-Earth orbit's average radius. I forget how many miles that is, and that's kind of the point.

    1 trillion miles = 10757.8002 Astronomical Units

    To put that in perspective, Earth is in a middle ring of our solar system. Pluto is way out there. I ignored other far-flung rocks like Xena or Gabrielle or whatever they're calling them these days.

    Google's Calculator doesn't memorize "radius of pluto's orbit in au" but on the Pluto Fact Sheet [nasa.gov] I found Semimajor axis (AU) 39.48168677.

    Diameter of our solar system is then ~80 AU. I did look up the heliopause for a farther "edge of our solar system, and got Starting in May 2012 at 120 AU, Voyager 1 detected a sudden increase in cosmic rays, an apparent signature of approach to the heliopause.. Both are miniscule compared to ~10800 AU for this article's celestial feature.

    I remembered that the nearest neighbor star is roughly 4 light years away. Let's not quibble about precision, one digit is enough.

    4 light years = 252,958.905 Astronomical Units

  • LUKE
    Look at him. He's headed for that
    red star.

    I think I can get him before he gets
    there... he's almost in range.

    The red star begins to take on the appearance of a monstrous
    glowing spiral aurora.

    That's no star! It's a groovy space

    It's too 1960s Star Trek special effect
    to be a groovy space hallucination.

    I have a very bad feeling about this.
    Look, my hands have eyeballs.

    Yeah, I think your right. Everyone vomit
    and purge! Chewie, where did you get
    those mushrooms you put in last night

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:09PM (#41612687)

    If the red giant star is spewing that much matter, and has a companion star that for all practical purposes will greatly outlive its partner, what are the prospects for novel planetary formation from this structure over cosmological time?

  • Why can't they report it by saying "the star spewed out x% of it's mass" instead of the meaningless "enough material to make a thousand earths"

    I mean I appreciate that it lost a lot of material, but I'm more interested in knowing how much that material represents to the star than knowing how may 'earths' I could make out of it.

    • If you're interested in knowing more then you should read the article, where the figure you request is given and then converted into the perhaps more meaningful for getting a sense of scale to the average person '# of earths' measurement.

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.