BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Hubble sees star's death throes
Cres Stsci
Debris from a star is scattered throughout space
By BBC News Online's science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The Hubble Space Telescope has seen a massive star, nearing the end of its life, tearing apart the shell of surrounding material it blew off 250,000 years previously.

The Crescent Nebula surrounds a massive ageing star called WR 136, an extremely rare and short-lived class of super-hot star called a Wolf-Rayet.

Hubble's multicoloured picture reveals with unprecedented clarity that the shell of matter is a network of filaments and dense knots, all enveloped in a thin "skin" of gas (seen in blue).

The outer edge of the gas cloud is glowing because it is being blasted by ultraviolet light from WR 136.

Hubble's sharp vision is allowing scientists to probe the intricate details of this complex system, which is crucial to understanding the life cycles of stars and their impact on the evolution of our galaxy.

WR 136 created this web of luminous material during the late stages of its life. As a bloated, red super-giant, WR 136 gently puffed away some of its bulk, which settled around it.

When the star passed from a super-giant to a Wolf-Rayet, it developed a fierce stellar wind, a stream of charged particles released from its surface that sped away into space at a furious rate of 6.1 million km per hour (3.8 million mph).

This stellar wind collided with the previously expelled material lying around the star and swept it up into a thin shell. That shell broke apart into the network of bright clumps seen in the image.

The present-day strong wind of the Wolf-Rayet star has only now caught up with the outer edge of the shell, and is stripping away matter as it flows past.

The gas cloud lies in the constellation Cygnus, 4,700 light-years from Earth. If the nebula were visible to the naked eye, it would appear in the sky as an ellipse one-quarter the size of the full Moon.

See also:

14 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
08 Feb 99 | Science/Nature
18 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes