Hubble gets a taste of sun's future
Scientists see clues in star, and it looks like a hamburger
(CNN) -- The Hubble Space Telescope has focused on a strange space object that might whet your appetite, a star that resembles a hamburger.
Dubbed Gomez's Hamburger in honor of its discoverer, the star could offer clues of what the sun might look like as it reaches its golden years, according to Hubble scientists, who released the image Thursday.
The star, approaching the end of its life span, is discharging huge amounts of gas and particles. Starlight reflecting off some of the dust forms the hamburger "buns," while a thick band of debris in the middle is the "patty."
The dark ring, seen edge-on from the Earth's perspective, cloaks a central star from view. But the star's rays creep out above and below the disk to light up the dust buns.
The star has a mass comparable to the sun, which scientists think will evolve in a similar fashion as it approaches death in about 5 billion years.
Sunlike stars swell into a red giant star near the end. Gomez's Hamburger has gone through that stage and then shed its outer layer, becoming a "proto-planetary nebula."
During this brief phase, the star is comparably cool. It gives off visible light but no ultraviolet radiation, which accounts for its odd appearance.
In less than 1,000 years, astronomers predict, the star will heat up and push away the surrounding dust, making the star visible.
The envelope of surrounding gas will light up as well, producing a planetary nebula. The often beautiful and bizarre shapes, which herald the presence of remnant stars, were so named by early astronomers because they looked similar to planets.
Chilean astronomer Arturo Gomez first detected the star in ground-based sky photos. For this quirky picture, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope trained its Wide Field Planetary camera on it this year.
The star is in the constellation Sagittarius about 6,500 light-years away.
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