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HD 101584: A binary star casts out a bizarre hourglass of gas

5 Feb 2020, 14:00 UTC
HD 101584: A binary star casts out a bizarre hourglass of gas
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Give Nature a chance, and it'll make some truly weird stuff.

It's already pretty peculiar that stars change so much over their lifetimes. Take a star like the Sun. Let it age for, oh, 12 billion years, and it goes from being a rather compact million-kilometer-wide hot ball of plasma to becoming an immense 300-million-kilometer-wide giant, so huge that its density drops to almost a vacuum at its surface and the temperature drops by a factor of two, changing its hue to red.

The gravity at its surface is so much lower (due to the size) that an atom of gas sitting there feels much less of a pull downward. But at the same time, the fierce energy radiating from below it imparts a force outward that's stronger than gravity. The gas gets blown away. This process actually removes most of the star's outer layers, which flow away, leaving behind the star's core, a dinky but very hot white dwarf.

I mean, c'mon. That's so weird!

Now add a companion star, a second star to create a binary system. Then things get really strange.

How strange? This strange:

Gas ejected from the binary star system HD 101584 forms an overall ...

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