Though it may seem sad on the surface, the death of a star is a beautiful thing—and an important precursor to the birth of new stars and planets. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile has provided a breathtaking view of a star nearing the end of its life. One unexpected feature was a lovely spiral pattern that probably indicates the presence of a hidden companion.
While earlier observations showed a thin spherical shell of gas perfectly centered on R Sculptoris, the ALMA data revealed unexpected structure inside. The details included clumps in the gas shell and a winding spiral pattern, as seen in the image above. Additionally, the amount of mass contained in the surrounding matter is approximately three times what was estimated from earlier observations and models of similar stars. [Read more….]