January 1, 2008 Astronomers found a tail of carbon, oxygen, and other material trailing behind a dying star called Mira. People have watched the star break down for 400 years, but only recently have astronomers noticed that it is leaving material behind as it cruises through the universe at 80 miles per second. When viewed with ultraviolet imaging from a satellite, Mira displays a wake four times the diameter of the moon, material that may one day build new solar systems, such as carbon and oxygen.
An amazing new find by astronomers may show us a whole new planetary system being formed. Past the moon and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, 350 light-years from Earth … a speeding bullet is hurling across space. This star is known as MIRA.
Astronomers have been studying it for 400 years -- scientists are now getting a good look at what it’s leaving behind.
“No star has ever shown a tail like this before,” Chris Martin, Ph.D., astronomer at the California Institute of Technology told Ivanhoe.
Dr. Martin is one of the first to witness the comet-like tail of MRA. He saw it streaking across the sky through the galaxy evolution explorer -- a satellite sensitive to ultraviolet light.
“We noticed around the star was this, a little bit of fluff that no one knew was there," Dr. Martin said.
As MIRA speeds along at 291 thousand miles an hour, it sheds carbon, oxygen and other important elements needed to form new stars, planets and possibly even life.
“We’re seeing this process of reseeding the gas between the stars with heavy elements that ultimately form new solar systems,” Dr. Martin said.
Everything you see here has been left behind by MIRA during the past 30-thousand years -- that dates back to before the ice age, before humans, before Neanderthals.
“No one would have predicted a tail like this, a tail that only appears in the ultra-violet … no one would knew that would happen and the picture is so amazing … so the combination of those two things, made it one of the peak events of my life,” Dr. Martin said.
And Dr. Martin hopes this glimpse of our past may give us a revealing look into our future.
BUILD YOUR OWN TELESCOPE: You can make your own telescope with two magnifying glasses, an empty paper towel roll, and duct tape. Hold one glass between you and a printed piece of paper; the image will look blurry. Place the second glass between your eye and the first glass and move forward or backward until the image comes into focus. Have a friend measure the distance between the two glasses and write it down.
Cut a slot in the cardboard tube about one inch from the front opening to hold one of the magnifying glasses. Cut a second slot for the second magnifying glass, the same distance from the first slot as your friend wrote down. Place the glasses in their slots and tape them in place with duct tape. Now you can look at the moon, some stars, or even birds.