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.
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.
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.