Aging red star pictured blowing smoky bubble

This image, released on September 20, 2017, was created from ALMA data on the unusual red carbon star U Antliae and its surrounding shell of material. The colors show the motion of the glowing material in the shell along the line of sight to the Earth. Blue material lies between us and the central star and is moving towards us. The red material around the edge is moving away from the star, but not towards the Earth. For clarity, this view does not include the material on the far side of the star, which is symmetrically receding from us. Around 2700 years ago, U Antliae went through a short period of rapid mass loss. During this period of only a few hundred years, the material making up the shell seen in the new ALMA data was ejected at high speed. Examination of this shell in further detail also shows some evidence of thin, wispy clouds known as filamentary substructures. Photo by European Southern Observatory/UPI

Sept. 20 (UPI) — With the help of the ALMA observatory, astronomers have captured images of a smoky bubble of debris expelled by the unusual red star, U Antliae.

U Antliae is a carbon star, a type of luminous red giant noted for its sooty-looking, carbon-rich atmosphere and rub red appearance. Over the last several thousand years, U Antliae has experienced a dramatic evolution, rapidly shedding mass and, most recently, expelling a shell of material at extreme speed.

The impressive resolution of the new image was made possible by the ability of the ALMA radio telescope to field multiple wavelengths. In addition to making for a stunning image, ALMA’s multi-wavelength dataset can also be used to slice through the bubble and study the debris shell in 3D.

The Doppler effect allowed astronomers to measure the direction and velocity of different slices of the bubble.

The smoky shell is surprisingly thin and round. ALMA’s analysis also revealed wispy filamentary substructures within the bubble of dust and gas.

Analysis U Antliae can help scientists better understand how aging star evolves, as well as how their mass loss offers fresh star-making material to new stars and new galaxies.

“Shells such as the one around U Antliae show a rich variety of chemical compounds based on carbon and other elements. They also help to recycle matter, and contribute up to 70 percent of the dust between stars,” researchers wrote in a news release.

Scientists detailed their analysis of U Antliae in a new paper, published this week in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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