02/06/2015 07:28 BST | Updated 02/06/2015 07:59 BST

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Discovers New Behaviour Of An Old 'Nasty' Star

nasa hubble telescope observes strange behaviour

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has just uncovered some strange happenings in the Milky Way galaxy involving an ageing star, nicknamed Nasty 1, engaging in some serious celestial cannibalism.

The clue lies in an unusual gaseous disk two trillion miles wide that happens to be surrounding Nasty 1.

An artist's illustration of the Hubble observations explains what's happening rather well.

The presence of two bright lights suggest that the pancake shaped disk around Nasty 1 consists of a companion star that appears to be pulling gas (or snacking) from the old star. Nasty indeed.

What this essentially means is that there is an exchange of mass going on between the two stars. As Nasty 1 evolved its hydrogen envelope began to loosen allowing a nearby companion star to gain mass and expose Nasty 1's bright helium core.


Study leader Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley explained the significance of the observations:

"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.

He added: "We think there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried inside the nebula, and we think the nebula is being created by this mass-transfer process. So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname."

Who knew the stars had it in them to snack on each other.

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