Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ALMA image of a star

On the front cover of a recent ESO newsletter in our coffee room is this image.

ALMA Observations of R Sculptoris. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
This is an ALMA observation of a nearby red giant (or asymptotic giant branch) star R Sculptoris. The structure you can see is gas clouds around the star -  the result of its outer atmosphere expanding and blowing off during a "thermal pulse" in this advanced stage of the star's life cycle. 

This is really useful for astronomers to constrain how much mass stars loose during these stages (which helps us to weigh galaxies from measuring the amount of starlight they give off). 

What's neat is that this is what our Sun will probably start doing one day (in about 4-5 billion years from now or so). And to put it in scale, the material "puffed" off to make that structure, was more than a thousand times the mass of the Earth..... 

For some reason I missed this when it was first released, but no worries - Phil Plait wrote an awesome article about it where you can learn a lot more.

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