Hubble Captures Image of a Carbon Star

Bright Star U Camelopardalis Surrounded by Shell of Gas

Hubble Space Telescope image of U Camelopardalis, or U Cam for short, a star nearing the end of its life. Credit: ESA/NASA

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of U Cam coughing out a spherical shell of gas as a layer of helium around its core began to fuse.

Camelopardalis, or U Cam for short, is a star nearing the end of its life. As stars run low on fuel, they become unstable. Every few thousand years, U Cam coughs out a nearly spherical shell of gas as a layer of helium around its core begins to fuse. The gas ejected in the star’s latest eruption is clearly visible in this picture as a faint bubble of gas surrounding the star.

U Cam is an example of a carbon star, a rare type of star with an atmosphere that contains more carbon than oxygen. Due to its low surface gravity, typically as much as half of the total mass of a carbon star may be lost by way of powerful stellar winds. Located in the constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), near the North Celestial Pole, U Cam itself is much smaller than it appears in this Hubble image. In fact, the star would easily fit within a single pixel at the center of the image. Its brightness, however, is enough to saturate the camera’s receptors, making the star look much larger than it is.

The shell of gas, which is both much larger and much fainter than its parent star, is visible in intricate detail in Hubble’s portrait. This phenomenon is often quite irregular and unstable, but the shell of gas expelled from U Cam is almost perfectly spherical.

5 Comments on "Hubble Captures Image of a Carbon Star"

  1. The science and techno world | July 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply

    More information:
    U Cam is a red giant, a star that was once like the Sun but has gone much further along its evolutionary path. Our Sun is fusing hydrogen steadily into helium in its core, providing warmth and light for us. U Cam ran out of hydrogen in its core long ago, and began fusing helium into carbon. Then it even ran out of helium as a fuel! The core is now essentially an extremely hot ball of carbon, squeezed by pressure to within an inch of its life. There’s still helium outside the core, and gets so much heat from the core’s radiation that it’s fusing in a thin shell. Think of it like a very hot skin around an orange.

    • Uncle Demotivator | July 8, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply

      Nice explanation – it should be added into article.

    • Does that mean that there are Giant Diamonds being created in the hearts of these carbon stars, that Barack Obama and the Far Right are secretly conspiring to keep from us?

  2. Madanagopal.V.C. | September 8, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply

    We should remember that neptune is considered to be a carbon failed star in as much as it is a gas giant like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus etc. Neptune is considered to be holding diamonds under great pressure of the planet`s atmosphere. U cam also seems to be such a failing star to throw out carbon from its core. As far as fusion is concerned atomic numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, in arithmetic progression of nucleon combination represents Hydrogen, Helium, Beryllium, Carbon, Oxygen, Neon, Magnesium, Silicon, Argon, Calcium etc which are abundantly formed in the fusion core of the star excepting inert gases and Beryllium. Other combinations are less abundant. Hence spewing up of Carbon is no surprise. Next to follow in abundance are Nitrogen, Flourine, Phosphorous, Chlorine etc being the preceding and succeeding atomic numbers. Nasa`s photos are commendable. Thank you.

  3. This picture looks almost exactly like the view down the throat of the Doomsday Machine from “Star Trek.”

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