Numerous people love to do stargazing. But what if they see some cannonballs? That’s what Hubble has spotted in space recently.
Researchers believe the blobs of plasma may start the explanation about the planetary nebula formation. According to UPI, the cannonballs were ejected from V Hydrae, which is a bloated red giant 1,200 light-years from the Earth.
Hubble data shows that they are twice the size of Mars. Red giants are considered dying stars in the final stages of life, exhausting their nuclear fuel.
The plasma balls are zooming so fast through space it would take only 30 minutes for them to travel from Earth to the Moon, researchers said. According to the astronomers’ estimation, the stellar cannon has been shooting plasma balls for approximately 400 years.
The fireballs present a puzzle to astronomers because the ejected material could not have been shot out by the host star, called V Hydrae. Astronomers suspect that V Hydrae has likely discarded half of its mass into space during the star’s “death throes.” It has expanded in size and shed its layers into space.
Because scientists do not believe that V Hydrae could eject such balls of fire, the best explanation is that the materials were shot out by an unseen companion star. The theory suggests that the companion star would have to be situated in an elliptical orbit that moves it close to V Hydrae’s atmosphere every 8.5 years.
As the other star enters the red giant’s outer atmosphere, it gobbles up the material, which then settles into a disk around the companion star. The disk serves as the launch pad for plasma balls that travel at approximately half million miles per hour.
Raghvendra Sahai, the study’s lead author and an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), says the light of V Hydrae is obscured about every 17 years.
Researchers say that because of the wobble of the jet direction, the plasma balls alternate between passing in front and behind the star system, hiding the dying star from sight.
Sahai says the detection of cosmic cannonballs was the first time they witnessed the process. He said that it was quite pleasing as well because the research helped explain mysterious things observed about V Hydrae by other scientists.
“This discovery was quite surprising,” said Sahai.
Sahai hopes the findings would be helpful in seeing structures in planetary nebulae. He and his colleagues also hope to use Hubble to further observe the V Hydrae star system.
Details of the new study are published in The Astrophysical Journal.