NASA’s Hubble space telescope has detected plasma balls roughly twice the size of Mars being ejected near a dying star at speeds so rapid, it would take them only 30 minutes to travel from Earth to the Moon.
This mysterious ‘cannon fire’ has been detected in the region once every 8.5 years for at least the past 400 years, but this is the first time it’s ever been seen in action, and researchers think they might finally know where it’s coming from.
Plasma is super-hot ionised gas, and the reason these blasts are so confusing for astronomers is that there’s no way they can be coming from the dying star they originate near.
The star in question, called V Hydrae, is a bloated red giant that’s 1,200 light-years away, and it’s dying. It’s already shed at least half of its mass into space in its final death throes, and is now exhausting the rest of its nuclear fuel as it burns out – hardly a likely source of super hot, giant blobs of charged gas.
But the new Hubble data provide researchers with some insight into the strange phenomenon, and it turns out that these plasma cannonballs might explain another space mystery – planetary nebulae.
Planetary nebulae aren’t like regular nebula, which are the birthplace of stars. Instead, they’re swirling rings of glowing gas that are expelled by dead or dying stars. Each one is unique, but no one has been able to explain how they form.
Now NASA researchers suggest that the cannonballs may play a key role.
We knew this object had a high-speed outflow from previous data, but this is the first time we are seeing this process in action,” said lead researcher Raghvendra Sahai, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Source: Hubble has spotted mysterious balls of plasma shooting from a star – ScienceAlert