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NASA JPL – The long tail of the star Mira

Long tail of the star Mira 185517Main A-516
Speeding-Bullet Star Leaves Enormous Streak Across Sky

NASA has just released this amazing picture of the star Mira, taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer space telescope. Mira is a red giant, that is travelling fast through space, the surprising new discovery is that Mira has a comet like tail, that stretches for 13 light years.

From NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) press release:

NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer has spotted an amazingly long
comet-like tail behind a star streaking through space at
supersonic speeds. The star, named Mira after the Latin word for
“wonderful,” has been a favorite of astronomers for about 400 years.
It is a fast-moving, older star called a red giant that sheds massive
amounts of surface material.

From the NASA Main Website:

Mira appears as a small white dot in the bulb-shaped structure at right, and is moving from left to right in this view. The shed material can be seen in light blue. The dots in the picture are stars and distant galaxies. The large blue dot at left is a star that is closer to us than Mira.

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer discovered Mira’s strange comet-like tail during part of its routine survey of the entire sky at ultraviolet wavelengths. When astronomers first saw the picture, they were shocked because Mira has been studied for over 400 years yet nothing like this has ever been documented before.

Mira’s comet-like tail stretches a startling 13 light-years across the sky. For comparison, the nearest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is only about 4 light-years away. Mira’s tail also tells a tale of its history – the material making it up has been slowly blown off over time, with the oldest material at the end of the tail having been released about 30,000 years ago.

JPL is the NASA body that manages the majority of the robotic missions to the planets and the solar system, this includes the highly successful Mars Rovers, Voyager, Cassini. You can subscribe to the NASA JPL newsletter by visiting this link.

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