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Beyond Earthly Skies

Spiral Structure around R Sculptoris

17 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Spiral Structure around R Sculptoris ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
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R Sculptoris is a dying red giant star located ~1,000 light-years from Earth. The star is surrounded by a detached shell of dust and gas that was created during a thermal pulse event where the star underwent a brief period of increased mass loss. A team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile discovered the presence of a spiral structure within the shell of material around R Sculptoris. The spiral structure extends from the central star outwards to the shell. “We’ve seen shells around this kind of star before, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen a spiral of material coming out from a star, together with a surrounding shell,” says Matthias Maercker, the lead author on the paper presenting the results.Figure 1: A visualization of the spiral structure around R Sculptoris. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)Towards the end of their lives, low-mass and intermediate-mass stars, such as the Sun, become red giant stars and start to lose a large amount of their mass. During the red giant phase of a star, it also periodically experiences thermal pulses. A thermal pulse occurs when a thin shell of helium surrounding the star’s ...

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