The Hubble Telescope has uncovered new clues surrounding a star’s behavior never before seen in the Milky Way. Titled NaSt1, the giant star raised awareness due to its bright appearance and unusual nature, which represents a brief transitory period in the evolution, and eventual demise, of massive star systems.
First discovered decades ago, NaSt1 (nicknamed Nasty 1) was identified as a “Wolf-Rayet” star type, which is a star that has lost its outer hydrogen layers. Nasty 1 does not look like a normal Wolf-Rayet star however. Hubble astronomers expected to see twin lobes of hydrogen gas swirling on opposing sides of the star’s core. Hubble actually revealed that Nasty1 was enclosed in a pancake-shaped disk of gas. The vast disk is 2 trillion miles wide and is believed to be the remnants of another unseen companion star. Current estimates place the nebula system just a few thousand years old.
“We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star forming from a binary interaction,” lead researcher Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley stated in a press release from Hubble.
“There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less.”
According to data, a Wolf-Rayet star evolves quickly, making them rare to spot in the vast expanse of the universe. As the massive star begins to run out of hydrogen, it swells in size. Its outer hydrogen layer becomes loosely bound to its core and more vulnerable to gravitational stripping.
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You’re sitting on your bed, and your mattress starts to stir beneath you. “Oh, it’s just the cat,” you think to yourself. But then your wardrobe starts to sway. Left, right, left, right. Unless your cat literally weighs a ton, she isn’t the one to blame here. This is an earthquake. And if you’re like most teens in the Bay Area, you’ve only experienced a handful of them.
“We had freeways collapsing, we had a panel of the bridge drop down,” said Berkeley resident Ben Frost, 36, about the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Loma Prieta in 1989. Although he was only ten years old then, he remembers the quake and its aftermath. “Some people died. The whole world was vibrating and moving around. If it had been slightly stronger, way more buildings would’ve collapsed and most buildings aren’t prepared to be retrofitted for an even bigger quake.”
But as a Bay Area teen born eight years after Loma Prieta, I can’t remember an earthquake that did more than make a few houseplants shake. After hearing about the recent major earthquakes in Nepal, I wonder how prepared my peers and I are for a major earthquake.