“It was one of the rare opportunities in which the signs of aging could be directly observed in a star on human time scales:” this is the statement that Meridith Joyce, an astronomer of the Australian National University, has made in a study published in the Astrophysical Journal.
The astronomer, together with his colleagues, has in fact analyzed an event that prefigures death in a red giant star, quite similar to our sun. The Sun, as well as T Ursae Minoris (T UMi), the star observed by researchers, 3000 light-years away from us, will end its life in a much more silent and slow way compared to other stars that end with a cosmic bang, called a supernova.
The red giants, in fact, should be transformed into the final phase of their existence, getting bigger and bigger and forming a shell of gas in the shape of an expanding ring. At the end of this process, a shrinkage will follow and only a white dwarf will remain as a trace of the existence of the same star.
T UMi is a 1, 2 billion-year-old star, similar to the Sun as far as mass is concerned. Astronomers have discovered that this star’s energy production has become unstable. At this stage, nuclear fusion is more active in the depths of the star causing “hiccups” that astronomers call thermal impulses.
Precisely these impulses are the cause of drastic and rapid resizing of the star as well as brightness levels. According to astronomers, in fact, the brightness and temperature of this star have decreased over the last thirty years, which shows that it is entering one of the last stages of its life.
These impulses will last for a while: the star should increase in size again over the course of a few decades, and it has probably shrunk and will still grow in size over the next few centuries, eventually becoming a white dwarf.
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