NASA Releases Epic Snapshot of Dying Star on Hubble Telescope's Birthday

The Hubble Space Telescope is officially 31 years old. To celebrate, the HST team at NASA unveiled a stunning picture of a star doing anything in its power to not become one with the cosmos for good. The star in question — one named AG Carinae, nearly 70 times as massive as our Sun — has been playing a game of cosmic tug-of-war for thousands of years, causing the star to spew material into space.

The end result is a beautiful red and blue nebula some 5 light-years wide, or some 30 trillion miles across. In comparison, Pluto orbits in our solar system just 3 billion miles away. Though pictures of the star have been captured before, the latest snapshot is the most luminous yet, showing the rich reds and blues of the star and its surrounding nebula.

While gravity is trying to keeps the star's material and energy contained within itself, the pressure from the star's radiation is pushing the cosmic winds outward.

"It's an arm wrestling contest between radiation pressure from within the star pushing outward and gravity pressing inward. This cosmic match results in the star expanding and contracting," NASA scientists explain in a release. "The outward pressure occasionally wins the battle, and the star expands to such an immense size that it blows off its outer layers, like a volcano erupting. But this outburst only happens when the star is on the verge of coming apart. After the star ejects the material, it contracts to its normal size, settles back down, and becomes quiescent for a while."

Ruhr University's Kerstin Weis, an expert on luminous blue stars, adds, "I like studying these kinds of stars because I am fascinated by their instability. They are doing something weird."

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