Observations made using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have revealed new, surprising clues about a gigantic star, surrounded by a massive 2 trillion-mile wide disc of gas, nearly 3,000 light-years from Earth. The star’s “weird” behavior and appearance have baffled the scientists so much that they have decided to name it “Nasty 1.”
Nasty 1 belongs to a category of stars known as the “Wolf-Rayet stars,” which are massive bodies that “live fast and die hard.” Given their rapid evolution, these stars lose their hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing the super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning core.
Although scientists are still not exactly sure how this process unfolds, one of the theories suggests that as these massive stars evolve, the outer hydrogen envelope, which is loosely bound, becomes vulnerable to gravitational stripping, possibly by a nearby companion star. This process can eventually lead to the stripped matter spilling out, creating a disk around the binary system.
“That’s what we think is happening in Nasty 1,” the study’s lead author Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. “We think there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried inside the nebula, and we think the nebula is being created by this mass-transfer process. So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname.”
The name Nasty 1 is a play on the star's catalog name, "NaSt1," which is derived from the first two letters of the last names of each of the two astronomers who discovered it in 1963 -- Jason Nassau and Charles Stephenson.
Based on current estimates, the nebula surrounding the stars is believed to be just a few thousand years old.
Despite this star system’s relative proximity to Earth, scientists have found it extremely hard to observe it because it’s so heavily cloaked in gas and dust. However, once the Wolf-Rayet star runs out of material and the “stellar cannibalism” winds down, scientists expect the view to be much clearer.
“The future could be full of all kinds of exotic possibilities depending on whether it blows up or how long the mass transfer occurs, and how long it lives after the mass transfer ceases,” Mauerhan said in the statement. “What evolutionary path the star will take is uncertain, but it will definitely not be boring.”