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A Stellar Pinwheel at a New Wavelength

28 Aug 2020, 16:00 UTC
A Stellar Pinwheel at a New Wavelength
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Spiral galaxies are one thing — but some spiral patterns in the sky are created much closer to home, arising from stars instead! A recent study explores a stellar pinwheel spotted around an unexpected source.
Monster Stars
The powerful winds of a lone Wolf-Rayet star — like WR 124, seen in this actual Hubble image — can inflate a stunning nebula as the star loses mass. [ESA/Hubble & NASA / Judy Schmidt]Even on the already dramatic scale of massive, evolved stars, Wolf-Rayet stars are extreme.
These monsters are in the final stages of their evolution, doomed to end their lives soon as violent supernovae. Until then, Wolf-Rayet stars are here for us to observe: scalding hot — with surface temperatures that range from 30,000 K to 210,000 K — and enthusiastically shedding mass via powerful stellar winds that can reach speeds of up to 3,000 km/s (that’s 6.7 million miles per hour).
Putting on a Show
Wolf-Rayet stars can create quite the spectacle, generating stunning nebulae even when isolated. But put them in a binary pair with another hot, massive star? Then you get something else entirely. In particular, scientists have found multiple examples of Wolf-Rayet binaries producing astonishing spiral ...

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