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If symmetry is a sign of splendour, then the newly discovered Red Square nebula is one of the most beautiful objects in the universe.
Seen in the infrared, the nebula resembles a giant, glowing red box in the sky, with a bright white inner core. A dying star called MWC 922 is located at the system’s centre and spewing its innards from opposite poles into space. (A nebula is an interstellar cloud of gas, dust and plasma where stars can both emerge and die.)
“This spectacular event is the death of a star,” said study team member James Lloyd of Cornell University.
After MWC 922 ejects most of its material into space, it will contract into a dense stellar corpse known as a white dwarf, shrouded by clouds of its own remains.
The Red Square nebula discovery is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Science.
Originally posted by Astyanax
Do you have any idea why it might be square (or cuboid, if that's what it is)? Some kind of magnetic field constraining the spread of ionized gas from the star?
The high degree of regularity in this case may point to the intriguing possibility that these bands are shadows cast by periodic ripples or waves on the surface of an inner disk close to the star at the heart of the system," Lloyd said.
The Red Square ranks among the most symmetrical objects ever observed by scientists. “If you fold things across the principle diagonal axis, you get an almost perfect reflection symmetry,” said study leader Peter Tuthill from the University of Sydney in Australia. “This makes the Red Square nebula the most symmetrical object of comparable complexity ever imaged.”
The Red Square’s extreme symmetry suggests the star’s surroundings are extremely still and not buffeted by external stellar winds or other turbulence.
The researchers propose that similar conditions are contributing to the extreme symmetry of another system, the Red Rectangle, whose central star is cooler than that of the Red Square.