Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Party stars and raining glitter, 05.31.11

Astronomers have recently analyzed some rather sparkly data from the Spitzer telescope. It seems HOPS-68, a star in the constellation Orion, is raining glitter. Yes, glitter.
Image credit: NASA/Tom Trower.
The star, it has been found, is actually raining small crystals of olivine, a mineral commonly found in periodots and green sand, particularly from Hawai’i, like these olivine samples pictured here.
The findings are puzzling, though. According to Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo in Ohio, a lead researcher in the case, “you need temperatures as hot as lava to make these crystals.” The problem, though, is that the cloud surrounding the proto-star is approximately 280 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, so it is impossible they could have formed in the star’s atmosphere in its current state. The prevailing theory is that the crystals formed when the star was hot and wild, and were swept out in solar winds and jets through the years. It seems they are still close enough to be affected by the star’s gravity, however. As time wore on and things began to settle down, the crystals began falling back down on the star, creating the glitter rain effect observed by astronomers.
The same theories surround the green haze created by olivine particles in the vicinity of comets because, well, they just might actually be great clumps of the stuff frozen together. According to Charles Poteet, the lead author on the project, it is probable that many of these crystals formed early on and were carried to the outer rim of the solar system as time wore on. Then, they eventually clumped together as they began to freeze, and consequently became the orbiting objects they are now, comets. That is how the theory goes, any way.
In any case, this star may be cold, but it sure knows how to party! Who needs a disco ball when you can have crystal rain?
Credit: NASA/JPL.

No comments:

Post a Comment