…cannonball star: what is it?

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

I decided to attempt to write about some space related things when I read about this ‘cannonball star’ a few months ago. It inspired me in many ways, and I thought writing about some of these astronomical events and how they relate to things on earth in terms of meaning and what they could represent, at least in my own, head, would hopefully make for some interesting pieces of writing.

So here we go…

What is this ‘cannonball star’?

It was spotted in the sky because of the ridiculous speeds it was travelling at: 960 thousand miles an hour. The other crucial and perplexing fact: it was ‘stained in carbon‘.

Let’s go back to the basics first and look briefly at the lifecycle of a star (very simplistically): 

  1. Stars begin their existence by forming form a high density nebula.
  2. They condense and become protostars.
  3. Temperatures increase and nuclear reactions occur, resulting in a main sequence star. An example of one of these being our own beloved sun.
  4. 10 billion years later all the hydrogen has fused and become helium. The helium core contracts . It becomes hot enough to form carbon as the outer layers of the star begin to cool and expand. The star has now become a red giant.
  5. Eventually the helium core is depleted and the outer shells of the star break away into dust and drift into space forming a planetary nebula.
  6. What remains of the star, around 80% of it’s original mass, and solely the core, is known as a white dwarf.
  7. Eventually the star dims and becomes a black dwarf.

*Some larger stars continue to expand past the red giant stage becoming red supergiants that eventually explode, their cores collapsing. This explosion is called a supernova.

So returning to our subject, ‘cannonball star’, affectionately known as SDSS J112801.67+004034.6.

As mentioned, not only is it hurtling through space at unheard of speeds, but the very fact it is coated in carbon is crucial in terms of discovering its origins. The cannonball star has been categorised as a ‘dwarf carbon star’, because it is in fact in the early stages of its life cycle. This means it should not contain any carbon, because carbon comes later in a star’s lifecycle. A star such as this ‘cannonball star’ has not reached ‘adulthood’ when its heat and nuclear reactions produce carbon, so why is carbon present in its make-up?

Scientists have theorised that this ‘cannonball star’, one of around 500 other ‘dwarf carbon stars’ discovered in the mind-blowing realms of outer space, was once part of a binary pair. Binary stars orbit each other, and scientists think that perhaps this cannonball star was orbiting a star much later in it’s lifecycle. The carbon could have easily ben transferred during this binary relationship. When the older star exploded in a supernova, the sheer energy and power of the explosion meant this young star was sent blasting off on a journey of a lifetime.

Why is this significant?

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

It’s not particularly, I just found it really interesting. A lot can be ‘metaphorised’ form this. Relationships obviously come to mind, the way two people will influence each other, spread their values and interests into one another as they ‘binarily’ orbit one another’s lives, until maybe it all blows up on account of life’s many trials and tribulations, like society and getting older and losing one’s place or mind/sanity/normality etc.

We can learn a lot from ‘cannonball star’, not only in terms of science and astronomy, and that’s why I will continue to monitor its journey through space, heading far away from earth into deep, dark distances filled of mystery and wonder. Good look out there SDSS J112801.67+004034.6…

 

 

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