September 28, 2011
Astronomers Discover The Fried Egg Nebula
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University of Manchester astronomers used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to discover the Fried Egg Nebula.
The newly discovered star has a diameter of about a thousand times bigger than the Sun and is about 13,000 light-years away from Earth.
It is the closest hypergiant found so far and shines about 500,000 times brighter than the Sun
"This object was known to glow brightly in the infrared but, surprisingly, nobody had identified it as a yellow hypergiant before," Eric Lagadec (European Southern Observatory), who led the team that produced the new discovery, said in a press release.
The astronomers used the VISIR infrared camera on the VLT to help make the observations of the star. The pictures taken are the first to clearly show the material around it and reveal almost two perfectly spherical shells.
Professor Albert Zijlstra, from The University of Manchester, said in a press release: "It is amazing that one of the brightest stars in the infrared sky had previously gone unnoticed. We are seeing a very rare event, when a star is beginning to blow off its outer layers, as a prelude to its final explosion as a supernova."
Astronomers believe the star will be one of the next supernova explosions in the Milky Way. Supernova help to provide chemicals to surrounding interstellar environment and the resulting shock waves can help start the formation of new stars.
Image 1: This picture of the nebula around a rare yellow hypergiant star called IRAS 17163-3907 is the best ever taken of a star in this class and shows for the first time a huge dusty double shell surrounding the central hypergiant. The star and its shells resemble an egg white around a yolky centre, leading astronomers to nickname the object the Fried Egg Nebula. Credit: ESO/E. Lagadec
Image 2: This chart shows the location of the rare yellow hypergiant star IRAS 17163-3907 within the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). This map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions and the location of the star itself is marked with a red circle. Although this object appears very bright in the infrared sky it is faint in visible light and hard to find in the very rich star-fields of the centre of the Milky Way. Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope
Image 3: This visible light wide-field image of the region around the yellow hypergiant star IRAS 17163-3907 was created from photographs taken through blue, red and infrared filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The star appears close to the centre, indistinguishable from thousands of others. This very rich star field in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way also features the blue ring-shaped planetary nebula NGC 6337 to the upper left of centre, as well as several star clusters and some faint clouds of glowing gas. The field of view is approximately 2.9 degrees across. Credit: ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2
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