Space

April 26, 2012

NASA’s WISE catches aging star erupting with dust

Images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer reveal an old star in the throes of a fiery outburst and spraying the cosmos with dust.

The findings offer a rare, real-time look at the process by which stars like our sun seed the universe with building blocks for other stars, planets and even life.

The star, catalogued as WISE J180956.27-330500.2, was discovered in images taken during the WISE survey in 2010, the most detailed infrared survey to date of the entire celestial sky. It stood out from other objects because it glowed brightly with infrared light. When compared to images taken more than 20 years ago, astronomers found the star was 100 times brighter.

“We were not searching specifically for this phenomenon, but because WISE scanned the whole sky, we can find such unique objects,” said Poshak Gandhi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, lead author of a new paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Results indicate the star recently exploded with copious amounts of fresh dust, equivalent in mass to our planet Earth. The star is heating the dust and causing it to glow with infrared light.

“Observing this period of explosive change while it is actually ongoing is very rare,” said co-author Issei Yamamura of JAXA. “These dust eruptions probably occur only once every 10,000 years in the lives of old stars, and they are thought to last less than a few hundred years each time. It’s the blink of an eye in cosmological terms.”

The aging star is in the “red giant” phase of its life. Our own sun will expand into a red giant in about 5 billion years. When a star begins to run out of fuel, it cools and expands. As the star puffs up, it sheds layers of gas that cool and congeal into tiny dust particles. This is one of the main ways dust is recycled in our universe, making its way from older stars to newborn solar systems. The other way, in which the heaviest of elements are made, is through the deathly explosions, or supernovae, of the most massive stars.

“It’s an intriguing glimpse into the cosmic recycling program,” said Bill Danchi, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Evolved stars, which this one appears to be, contribute about 50 percent of the particles that make up humans.”

Astronomers know of one other star currently pumping out massive amounts of dust. Called Sakurai’s Object, this star is farther along in the aging process than the one discovered recently by WISE.

After Poshak and his team discovered the unusual, dusty star with WISE, they went back to look for it in previous infrared all-sky surveys. The object was not seen at all by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which flew in 1983, but shows up brightly in images taken as part of the Two Micron All-Sky Survey in 1998.

Poshak and his colleagues calculated the star appears to have brightened dramatically since 1983. The WISE data show the dust has continued to evolve over time, with the star now hidden behind a very thick veil. The team plans to follow up with space and ground-based telescopes to confirm its nature and to better understand how older stars recycle dust back into the cosmos.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages and operates WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. The principal investigator for WISE, Edward Wright, is at the University of California, Los Angeles. The mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The IRAS mission was a collaborative effort between NASA, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The 2MASS mission was a joint effort between Caltech, the University of Massachusetts and NASA. Data are archived at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines December 22, 2014

News: Report: DOD bomb hunters pried into U.S. firms, citizens - During some of the bloodiest days of U.S. combat in Afghanistan and the roadside bomb threat there, the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization “improperly collected” intelligence on U.S. citizens and corporations to try to stem the threat, a Pentagon Inspector General report has found.  ...
 
 

News Briefs December 22, 2014

U.K., Canadian military leaves to join Ebola fight Reservists and troops from Britain and Canada have left for Sierra Leone to help in the battle to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. British officials said Dec. 20 that 16 reservists and 100 regular military personnel left on a morning flight from the Brize Norton military airbase....
 
 
Boeing photograph

Boeing, Malaysia Airlines celebrate 100th 737 delivery

Boeing photograph Boeing and Malaysia Airlines celebrated the direct delivery of the airline’s 100th 737 aircraft at an event in Seattle. Shown here Aminuddin Zakaria, senior vice president, airline engineering group, Malaysi...
 

 

Navy helicopter crashes in Kuwait; all crewmembers ok

A U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 (HSC 26) crashed at 11:22 a.m., EST, Dec.21, while on an overland training flight at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. All six personnel aboard the helicopter survived the crash and were transported to nearby medical facilities for evaluation. Three of the six crewmembers sustained minor...
 
 

AMC relocates KC-135 simulator

As Air Mobility Command fields the KC-46A Pegasus, displaced KC-135 Stratotanker pilot simulators will be relocated across the Total Force to maximize simulator access across the mobility enterprise. As a result, AMC, in coordination with the Air National Guard, recently identified four KC-135 pilot flight simulators and one KC-135 Boom Operator Weapons System Trainer to...
 
 

SpaceX completes first milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System

NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with the agency. During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>