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Dusty star stands out from the rest

Astronomers used images from NASA’s WISE space telescope, to locate an aging star shedding loads of dust (orange dot at upper left). Only one other star, called Sakurai’s object, has been caught erupting with such large amounts of dust.

The process is a natural part of aging for stars like our sun. As they puff up into red giants, they shed dust that is later recycled back into other stars, planets, and in the case of our solar system, living creatures.

In this image, infrared data from WISE and a past all-sky survey mission from 1983, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), have been combined. Color is used to show similar observations taken almost thirty years apart; the recent WISE data are color-coded green and red, while the older IRAS data are blue.

The picture reveals that the newfound dusty star, called WISE J180956.27–330500.2, was not seen at all by IRAS (it is the only bright star in this field that does not have a corresponding blue halo). The star has brightened by a factor of 100. This appears to have been caused by a sudden eruption in the star around 15 years ago. Dust freshly created in this event is heated by starlight and glows at infrared wavelengths. »

Posted on Thursday, April 26th, 2012 at 2:22 PM