27. Dying Star Leaves Trail Like a Comet

By Tim Folger|Friday, December 21, 2007
mira
mira
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL CALTECH

The star Mira (Latin for “astonishing”), located in the constellation Cetus, has captivated astronomers since its discovery in 1596 by German astronomer David Fabricius. Over a period of weeks, Fabricius watched the star brighten, then fade from view completely. But it wasn’t until last summer that astronomers learned just how astonishing Mira really is. In August, a team of astronomers reported that Mira has a 13-light-year-long tail of glowing stardust, something never seen in any other star. The tail glows brightly in the ultraviolet but produces no light in the visible spectrum, which is why it escaped detection for centuries.

The astronomers studying it say Mira was once an ordinary star before ballooning into a red giant 400 times the diameter of the sun. Some cataclysmic event in Mira’s past, perhaps the explosion of a nearby star, sent it rocketing through space at 80 miles per second. Now, like all red giants, Mira is violently ejecting its outer layers, which form its brilliant tail.

Go to the next story: 28. Free at Last: Medical Workers Released in Libya

Comment on this article
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
DSCMayCover
+

Log in to your account

X
Email address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it emailed to you.

Not registered yet?

Register now for FREE. It takes only a few seconds to complete. Register now »