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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 18:36 GMT
Hubble reveals secrets of dying stars
Ant Nasa/Esa
So called because it looks like an ant - almost
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

A stunning new image from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is challenging old ideas about the late stages of the lives of stars.

The so-called ant nebula resembles the head and thorax of an ant. This HST image shows that the ant's body is a pair of gaseous lobes protruding from a dying, Sun-like star.

Astronomers are studying the intriguing symmetrical patterns seen in the gas cloud, which are unlike the chaotic patterns they expected.

They hope to gain some insight into how a spherical star can produce such prominent, non-spherical symmetries in the gas that it ejects.

One possibility is that the central star has a close companion that exerts strong gravitational tidal forces, which distort the outflowing gas. For this to work, the orbiting companion star would have to be close to the dying star, about the distance of the Earth to the Sun.

At this distance, the orbiting companion star would not be far outside the hugely bloated hulk of the dying star. It is even possible that the dying star has consumed its companion.

See also:

29 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
06 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
10 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
24 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
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