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Radio astronomers capture preview of sun's apocalypse

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Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) images of the gas being expelled from the surface of the star TX Cam. The approximate size of the star as it would be seen in visible light is indicated by the circle. An astronomical unit (AU) is equal to 93 million miles (149.6 million km)  

(CNN) -- Scientists this week released a preview of the demise of our own solar system: a time-lapse movie showing a star, similar to our sun, ejecting gas during a late stage of its life.

The images are the most detailed ever obtained of activity near a star other than the sun, astronomers said.

The star, located about 1,000 light years away, is one of thousands of Mira variable stars in the Milky Way, or stars that display regular changes in brightness over a period that lasts a year or so. Known as TX Cam, the star has a variable pattern that lasts 80 weeks.

Astronomers expect our own sun to become a Mira-like star at the twilight of its existence. In several billion years it will expand, swallow up the inner solar system planets and bombard the outer planets with material as it casts off its outer layers.

The sun will inevitably eject much of its mass into interstellar space and dwindle down to become a white dwarf.

Philip Diamond of the University of Manchester in Manchester, England, and Athol Kemball of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, made observations every two weeks to create the time-lapse movie, which they presented at an astronomical symposium in Manchester.

The images, which cover a period of 88 weeks, show immensely complex motions that current theory cannot explain, according to the scientists.

"It is difficult to explain why most of the gas is moving away from the star while, at the same time, some is falling towards it," Kemball said in a statement.

For their work they used the Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a system of 10 radio telescopes controlled remotely from Socorro. The largest dedicated, full-time astronomical instrument in the world, the VLBA's sites range from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands.



RELATED STORIES:
Scientists reveal nine new planets
August 7, 2000
Hubble investigates mystery of a dying star
August 3, 2000
Hubble watches star demolish its surroundings
July 13, 2000
Hubble images of dying stars could shed light on living Earth
March 9, 2000

RELATED SITE:
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
   •VLBA Radio Astronomy Image of TX Cam
   •NRAO Very Long Baseline Array
The University of Manchester

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