Thursday, August 04, 2005

Close to my heart...

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day was interesting for me, because it contains objects similar to those I study in my research: young open star clusters. My work involves looking for the remains of dead stars, stars that have burnt all of their fuel, called white dwarfs. White dwarfs are small, incredibly dense objects. Imagine taking the sun, which is almost one million miles across, and squeezing it into a ball the size of the Earth, which is only 8000 miles across! In the picture, toward the upper left, you can see a white dwarf in the process of forming. The small, green circle is a planetary nebula, or a star in the process of dying. A star which has used up all its fuel sheds it outer layers, leaving behind the hot, now-defunct nuclear reactor at its core behind. This core will quickly shrink to form the white dwarf, while the outer parts of the star slowly drift away into deep space.

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