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Flaring, echoing star is a beautiful mystery for astronomers

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

NASA has released a series of images showing the envelope of dust and gas around a recently discovered star. The star, V838 Monocerotis, was previously unknown until it flared in brightness and shone through a cloud in space.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Located in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere, in the constellation of Monoceros, the Unicorn, astronomers first observed the star in 2002 when it flared in brightness.

Despite its flare in brightness, it has always remained just outside of naked-eye brightness, requiring a telescope to see.  However, the Hubble Space Telescope has been able to image the star with great clarity and has regularly done so since 2002.

Scientists have detected several flares from the star, and have long baffled at what could be causing them, since the pattern of flaring is inconsistent with a nova, which is a typical pattern of death for most stars. During a nova, the outer layers of gas belonging to a star are cast off into space forming a surrounding shell of outward moving dust and gas.

What astronomers now suspect is that light is reflecting, or echoing off dust and gas previously shed by the star in earlier eruptions, or the dust off which the light is reflecting could be the parent material from which the star formed. Scientists are unsure as to which.

Astronomers have offered several theories, including the possibility that the star has swallowed its planets, to explain the sudden flares in brightness.

Although scientists remain mystified by what is actually happening, further research should reveal what is actually going on. The Hubble Space telescope as well as several ground based scopes, are able to view the star quite clearly across different wavelengths. The star is close enough for very detailed observations, only 20,000 light years away.

Further observations will unravel the mystery.

In the meantime, the images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope make for interesting viewing.

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