An interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gasses expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour
Space news (March 11, 2016) – 30,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina (The Keel) –
The Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a, near the centre of this Hubble image, is a bright celestial beacon ejecting hydrogen in layers that are interacting with extremely fast-moving stellar winds to produce the ring-shaped bubble of an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other gases viewed.
Wolf-Rayet stars are the most massive stars detected during the human journey to the stars. WR 31a started life with over 20 times the mass of Sol. Our Sun is a main sequence star which is actually a little bigger than average. The more mass a star has, the shorter its expected life, which accounts for the short life span of this bright celestial beacon. In the words of NASA, massive stars “Live fast and die hard”.
The mass of WR 31a puts it at the lower end of the mass scale for Wolf-Rayet stars, with the most massive estimates coming in at over 200 times the mass of our sun. The estimates of the mass of this type of star are still being worked on, so don’t take them to heart.
Astronomers estimate WR 31a is only 20,000 years old, give or take a few thousand, which is around 10 percent of its life expectancy according to current theory. The life cycle of Wolf-Rayet stars is only a couple hundreds thousand years long, a mere blink of the eye in cosmic terms, which means this massive star will end its days as a spectacular supernova.
The event we refer to as supernova is an essential part of the life cycle of the cosmos. Deep within these massive stars, the building blocks of the cosmos are created. It’s here the carbon, magnesium, calcium, and other elements that make up 4-5 percent of the universe are made using the extreme conditions that exist.
We’re all stardust traveling on a pale-blue dot in the distance, across the vastness of space-time to an unknown but dreamed of ending.
Watch this YouTube video on Wolf-Rayet star WR 31a.
Learn about the first moments of supernovae.
Follow the space journey of NASA.
Learn more about the birth and death of stars here.
Learn more about the supernova.