Study of distant dying star may give clues to sun's eventual end

Sept. 16, 2013 at 7:46 PM
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LONDON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- A jet of high-energy particles from a distant dying star shows what happens when stars like our sun are near death, an international team of astronomers says.

The discovery by scientists from Sweden, Germany and Australia is also a crucial step in explaining how some of the most beautiful objects in space -- symmetric clouds of gas called planetary nebulae -- are formed, Britain's Royal Astronomical Society reported Monday.

How planetary nebulae get their distinctive shapes has long been a mystery to astronomers, but the new findings show what could be the key to the answer: a high-speed, magnetic jet emanating from a dying star.

The astronomers studied a distant, dying star known as IRAS 15445−5449, which is in the process of becoming a planetary nebula.

"In our data we found the clear signature of a narrow and extremely energetic jet of a type which has never been seen before in an old, sun-like star," study leader and Bonn University graduate student Andres Perez Sanchez said.

Other types of astronomical objects, from newborn stars to supermassive black holes, exhibit similar but not identical jets, the researchers said.

"What we're seeing is a powerful jet of particles spiraling through a strong magnetic field," astronomer Wouter Vlemmings at the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden said. "Its brightness indicates that it's in the process of creating a symmetric nebula around the star."

The astronomers caution they don't yet know enough to say whether our sun will create a jet when it dies.

"The star may have an unseen companion -- another star or large planet -- that helps create the jet," Sanchez said.

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