Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Friday beautiful science - On Wednesday!

I missed last week's Friday beautiful science. Between doctor's appointments and being strung out on prescription medication, I couldn't even get my s*#t together enough to post a photo. So I'm doing two this week. One today, and one on Friday. I found today's at Bad Astronomy. This is a photo of the star Mira, found 400 light years from Earth. Here's Phil's description:

Mira is definitely wonderful, in the sense of evoking wonder. And now we have found out it’s even more amazing than we thought. Most stars near the Sun orbit the center of the Galaxy at roughly the same speed, but some are faster than others. Mira, it so happens, is plowing through this local region of space at about 130 kilometers per second (about 80 miles per second). There is gas and dust out there, a thin haze floating among the stars. As Mira screams through this fog, the gas it is ejecting as it convulses is blown backwards, leaving a long tail behind it — imagine running down the street with a smoke bomb in your hand and you’ll get the idea.

Now take another look at the image at the top of this page. Mira is on the right hand side, and is moving left to right. The long tail of ejected material is incredible — it’s 13 light years long! It has taken Mira 30,000 years to move this distance, which means that the material in the left hand side of the tail was ejected 30 millennia ago. If you look at the location of the star itself, you’ll see a parabolic arc in front of it; that’s the bow shock, where Mira’s ejected material is slamming into the material between stars (called the interstellar medium or ISM).

He also describes how the material for Mira will be involved in creating new solar systems. Very cool stuff, head over there and read it. Now.

For full resolution photo, go here.

NASA includes a timeline on the age of Mira's tail:


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