Nasty 1: NASA’s Hubble Telescope Observes Stellar Apocalypse

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Astronomers at NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found a star in the vast chasm of space that is currently in the middle of a stellar apocalypse. This star has baffled astronomers for decades, considering it is something that has never been seen before in the cosmos. Astronomers at NASA have now dubbed this killer of cosmic worlds “Nasty 1.”

The star, NaSt1, or Nasty 1, was discovered over five decades ago, located around 3,000 light-years from Earth. According to astronomers at NASA, the star is approximately 20 solar masses. The massive, rapidly deteriorating star is known as a Wolf-Rayet star. These types of stars have surface temperatures between 30,000 and 200,000 Kelvin. The cores of Wolf-Rayet stars usually consist of ionized elements, like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. The high surface temperatures from the fused, ionized elements give these stars a very high luminosity.

Although they shine bright, they fade away very quickly. When these supergiant stars begin to reach the end of their life, they begin to shed their atmospheres due to a halt of core fusion, exposing its open core. This process of the exaltation of the star’s atmosphere is called gravitational stripping. Even though, scientists have known about Wolf-Rayet stars for a long time, Nasty 1 has confused the greatest minds of NASA.

nasty 1Astronomers at NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope were searching for these types of stars when they came across the violent event happening to Nasty 1. According to them, they expected to view two lobes of gaseous clouds coming out of both sides of the star. However, what they found was seen to be much more devastating to the cosmos. They observed a massive, two-trillion-mile-wide disk of stellar debris around it. Though, these accretion-like disks are normally found around the circumference of a black hole. Why would such a massive disk form around Nasty 1? It could possibly be that an unknown companion star is destroying it in an apocalyptic stellar event, leaving the aftermath to orbit around the cosmic killer.

A new study was launched by NASA to find out how such an apocalyptic event could happen. The paper on Nasty 1, written by Jon Mauerhan, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, was published in latest issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Mauerhan stated this event could be the evidence of a type of binary interaction between Nasty 1 and an unseen star. He said there a very few instances of this happening in the Milky Way Galaxy; therefore, it could be a short phase in the life of the dying star. Moreover, the length of time the stellar disk may be seen,” could be only ten thousand years or less.” This means that astronomers may have missed a majority of the evolution of Nasty 1 which created this process.

Mauerham’s paper outlines a hypothetical scenario that explains what is happening to the massive star. According to him, as Nasty 1 evolved, it began swelling at a very advanced rate. When a star grows too quickly, their hydrogen atmosphere becomes unstable and more prone to being thrown into space as it swells, causing the aforementioned gravitational stripping. When gravitational stripping happens, the inside of the star becomes open and disrupts the core fusion process from perturbations on the outer layers of the star. This is being caused by a companion star that is now eating away at the outside of Nasty 1, ending in a Wolf-Rayet transformation.

nasty 1Sometimes in binary star systems the mass-transfer process can become rogue. Sometimes the stellar debris could be ejected into space due to fighting gravitational pulls from the stars, causing a disk to form. Mauerham stated he believes there is another star buried within the nebula, blocking attempts to reveal it.

If the study proves that Nasty 1 is being devoured by a companion star, astronomers at NASA believe the star’s evolution could be even more important than once thought. Nathan Smith, a professor at the University of Arizona and co-author of the study, stated the way in which the mass-transfer process unfolded with Nasty 1 could give astronomers more information on how Wolf-Rayet stars evolve, live, and eventually die.

The study of Wolf-Rayet stars like Nasty 1 is important to astronomers. These types of stars have the ability to end in fiery, violent supernovae, wreaking havoc on stellar worlds thousands of light-years away. Further observations and studies on the apocalyptic stellar event could provide astronomers a greater insight on the origin of the cosmic killer. By doing this, they may be able to locate a similar event near Earth, one of which that could mean an apocalyptic end for the planet.

By Alex Lemieux


Gizmodo: Bizarre Nasty Star is Being Devoured by its Companion

Times Gazette: NASA’s Hubble encounters a strange star that astronomers have nicknamed as Nasty

SMJ News: First discovered over fifty years ago, Nasty 1, whose nickname derives from its catalog name NaSt1

Photo Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Photo Courtesy of Judy Schmidt’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Photo Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License