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SCIENCE FILE

Mira: a star with a tail -- and a tale to tell

August 18, 2007|John Johnson Jr. | Times Staff Writer

Cats have them, dogs have them, even baby frogs have them. But a star with a tail? That was a new one for Caltech scientist Christopher Martin.

The star, Mira, which means "wonderful" in Latin, has a tail 13 light-years long, three times the distance to our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri.

NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft scanned the star part of its survey of the heavens in ultraviolet light.

Mira is giving scientists an opportunity to see how dying stars seed the birth of stars and solar systems.

Billions of years ago, Mira was like our sun. As it aged, it swelled into a red giant. Eventually, it will become a white dwarf, the core of the original star.

"We hope to be able to read Mira's tail like a tickertape to learn about the star's life," said Mark Seibert, an astronomer with the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena.

john.johnson@latimes.com

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