Feb 10, 2009

Space Dust & The Rectangular Nebula

While outer space is pictured by many as a deep vacuum, it is actually full of space dust, tiny particles of matter which, in some instances, coalesce and form new stars and stellar systems. There are many areas that scientists have found which are densely packed with this dust, and which are called "stellar nurseries" because of the high rate of new star formation within them. The image below, a section of the Eagle Nebula, is one example of a gas and dust filled area which is currently "birthing" hundreds if not thousands of new stars.

Our solar system is currently experiencing a cosmic dust storm with at least three times as much dust passing through compared to just a few years ago, owing to a periodic weakening of the sun's magnetic field. And sometime in the next 10,000 years, we'll plow through the G-cloud, a region of dust more dense than the one we're in now.
Astronomers have struggled for a conclusive answer as to where all this dust comes from.
"We not only do not know what the stuff is, but we do not know where it is made or how it gets into space," said Donald York, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago. ( Space.com )

Donald York and his colleagues have recently discovered one such source for all this inter-stellar and inter-galactic dust.

The dust factory is a double star system, designated HD 44179, that sits within the strikingly beautiful Red Rectangle, an oddly geometric cloud of gas and dust located 2,300 light-years away.

Here is an image of this double star system nebula as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Click HERE for a schematic detailing the structure of this amazing stellar object. One of the stars in this binary system is an older star, which has used up it's hydrogen fuel, and is slowly sloughing off it's outer layer as it prepares to contract and "burn" it's helium fuel. This takes place over tens of thousands of years, which to us seems like a huge span of time, but in the multi-billion year life-span of a star, is like the blink of an eye. It is during this time that the companion star's gravity and the tidal forces created by it are helping to eject the ridiculous amounts of "dust" from the star which is about to start it's next phase.
Scientists think that, if this type of process is happening throughout the Universe, and since binary star systems are actually more common than single star systems, this may help explain the unaccounted for masses of intergalactic and inter-stellar dust that permeates the visible Universe. Seeing as how the Universe is at least 14 Billion years old, it is not a hard thing to imagine. That is a nearly infinite amount of time.
"The heavy elements like iron, nickel, silicon, calcium and carbon condense
out into solid grains, which we see as interstellar dust, once they leave the
system," ( Space.com )

It is these heavy elements that then go on to become part of planets like ours, and life like ours. What a -FUPPETS- mind-fuck.

No comments: