ASTRONOMERS have recorded a previously unknown galactic phenomenon – the first distant star with a comet-like tail powerful enough to form planets.
The trail of carbon, oxygen and other cosmic matter behind the giant red star Mira, named after the Latin word for wonderful, is 13 light years long – about 20,000 times the distance from Pluto to the Sun.
NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer photographed the extraordinary spectacle, providing researchers with further clues to the origins of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Christopher Martin, of the California Institute of Technology, said: "I was shocked when I first saw this completely unexpected, humungous tail trailing behind a well-known star. Mira’s tail echoed, on vast, interstellar scales, a speedboat’s wake."
The discovery, he said, gave astronomers a unique opportunity to study how stars similar to the Sun die and eventually seed new solar systems.
As Mira, which is more than 400 million miles in diameter, speeds along at 291,000mph, it sheds a massive amount of life-giving matter that can form newer stars and planets.
The tail, captured by the Galaxy Explorer’s powerful wide-range lens, was formed over a period of 30,000 years.
The egg-shaped Mira has been a favourite subject of scientific study since its discovery by the 16th-century astronomer David Fabricius.
via: Scotsman.com News