Star system HD 44179 pumps out hot gas and other material to create the unusual structure known as the Red Rectangle
Space news (Old, sun-like stars near the end of their days) – 2,300 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn) –
Two reasons astronomers study old, sun-like stars near the end of their days is to learn more about Sol, and its final days. Star system HD 44179‘s an older star system that began pumping out hot gas and other material into space starting about 14,000 years ago to create the unusual X-shaped structure seen in the image above. Near the end of its lifespan, astronomers believe this star system is a close binary, with the star at the centre of the image being a sun-like star surrounded by dense dust.
NASA astronomers first observed the unusual shape and colour of HD 44179 using ground-based telescopes. It was these observations and shots like the Hubble Space Telescope image seen below that first inspired viewers to call it the Red Rectangle. This image revealed a wealth of new features hidden in the nebula that ground-based telescopes can’t see through Earth’s chaotic atmosphere.
HD 44179 is an unusual example of what astronomers call a proto-planetary nebula. Older, sun-like stars on their way to becoming planetary nebulae, once they finish expelling material a smaller, very hot white dwarf star will remain. The ultraviolet radiation they emit will flood into the nebula and strike the surrounding gas and cause it to glow, creating a planetary nebula.
Read more about the Red Rectangle here.
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