Image of RCW 120 Nebula Shows Expanding Bubble of Ionized Gas

composite-color-image-rcw-120

In this color composite image of the RCW 120 nebula (above), an expanding bubble of ionized gas, about ten light-years across, is revealed. It is causing the surrounding material to collapse into dense clumps where star formation occurs.

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Earth-Sized Exoplanet Discovered in Alpha Centauri System

planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B
This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Alpha Centauri B is the most brilliant object in the sky and the other dazzling object is Alpha Centauri A. Our own Sun is visible to the upper right. The tiny signal of the planet was found with the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Astronomers have uncovered a low-mass planet orbiting α Centauri B, a member of the stellar system neighboring our Solar System. Although the exoplanet is nearly identical to Earth in mass, it’s much closer to its star than Mercury to the Sun, so it’s expected to be scorched and barren. As astronomers search α Centauri for more hospitable worlds, its astronomical proximity will probably spur dreams of interstellar exploration projects.

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Cosmic Spiral Around Red Giant Star R Sculptoris Could Elucidate Stellar Evolution

unexpected spiral structure in the material around the old star R Sculptoris
Observations using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have revealed an unexpected spiral structure in the material around the old star R Sculptoris. This feature has never been seen before and is probably caused by a hidden companion star orbiting the star. This slice through the new ALMA data reveals the shell around the star, which shows up as the outer circular ring, as well as a very clear spiral structure in the inner material. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

R Sculptoris, an elderly star, located 1,500 light-years from Earth, has been observed in the final stages of stellar life, slowly shedding the outer layers of its atmosphere. There are intensely high temperatures at the star’s core, which create a powerful stellar wind that drive these layers out. They usually accumulate into planetary nebulae over a few million years. It is believed that most small and medium-sized stars will undergo a similar process at the end of their life.

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