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Nasty Star Has Cosmic Temper Tantrum

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Caroline Reid

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100 Nasty Star Has Cosmic Temper Tantrum
The star called NaSt1, nicknamed "Nasty 1" via NASA

No, NaSt1 (or Nasty 1) is not the latest DJ to hit the music scene. But it is the latest star making a stir on the NASA scene. 

First spotted back in 1963, the star's catalogue name is NaSt1, an amalgamation of the first two letters of the duo of astronomers who discovered it: Jason Nassau and Charles Stephenson. The team at NASA stalking its behavior has nicknamed the star "Nasty 1," and there does seem to be something nasty brewing around the star, so maybe the name is prophetic.


The star was categorized as a "Wolf-Rayet" star: a star that is many many times more massive than our own Sun. A cosmic titan. As a result, it is chaotic, hot and growing rapidly. It discards its outer layers of hydrogen quickly, exposing its bright, burning core. 

But Nasty 1 is badly behaved: Hubble images show that the exhibitionist star isn't distributing its outer layers of hydrogen in a uniform, spherical manner, like an angelic halo. Instead, it's having a bit of a temper tantrum, swirling its hydrogen layers round in gleeful rebellion [see featured image]. Compare the disk-like gas surrounding Nasty 1 to the perfect sphere of gas surrounding Campbell's Hydrogen Star, showcased below. 

Campbell's Hydrogen Star an example of a classic (well-behaved) Wolf-Rayet star

What's causing Nasty 1 to act up? Scientists think that there might be another star hidden within Nasty 1's nebula and its gravitational field is playing havoc with Nasty 1's hydrogen cloud. The two stars seem to be tussling for control of the hydrogen; this is just a typical case of "but they started it!" The result of this squabble is that the gas jets surrounding Nasty 1 form plume-like structures.


"We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star-forming from a binary interaction," said study leader Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley. "There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less.

"That's what we think is happening in Nasty 1. We think there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried inside the nebula, and we think the nebula is being created by this mass-transfer process. So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname."

Eventually the binary star system will run out of material to toss around and the gas cover will slowly dissipate. When this happens, astronomers will have a great, unobstructed view of the binary star system. “What evolutionary path the star will take is uncertain, but it will definitely not be boring,” said Mauerhan.

[Via NASA]


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