NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has seen planet-size cannonballs of hot gas whipping through the space near a dying star, but the origin of these plasma balls remains a mystery.
While the fireballs could not have been ejected by the star, it could be that an unseen companion star is responsible for the chaos, according to a new study of this cosmic firing squad. “According to this [new] theory, the companion would have to be in an elliptical orbit that carries close to the red giant’s puffed-up atmosphere every 8.5 years,” according to the statement.
If scientists can discover where these balls come from, it could also explain other weird shapes seen in the cloud of gas around dying stars, some of which have been difficult for scientists to explain, the statement said.
Supplemental observations were performed by the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii, which looked at the star in submillimeter wavelengths and found knotty structures that may have been produced by blobs sent out 400 years ago, the statement said.
Astronomers had previously speculated that the knotty structures were actually jets of material that emerge from structures called accretion disks, or disks of material that is accelerating around a star.