Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Dust in the Wind

Two years ago, a distant star with the prosaic name V838 Monocerotis flared like a flashbulb to become the brightest star in the Milky Way before fading into obscurity again. Astronomers do not know what caused the eruption, but a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that it was not unique.

The picture shows concentric shells of dust thrown off by previous explosions winding around the star like layers of a fragile cocoon. The dust shells are illuminated by the flash of the recent flare-up as it sweeps out at the speed of light. Dr. Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University and Dr. Howard E. Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute say they have counted at least 11 concentric rings, suggesting a series of outbursts over the eons.
There's a lot of dust around our house, particularly in the dry summer months, but it never looks like this.


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