WR 104: Pinwheel StarLike a cosmic lawn sprinkler, dust streaming from a rotat…

WR 104: Pinwheel Star

Like a cosmic lawn sprinkler, dust streaming from a rotating star system creates a pinwheel pattern in this false color infrared image. Astronomers discovered the surprising star dust scenario using a sophisticated interferometer and the 10 meter Keck I telescope to observe the bright Wolf-Rayet star WR 104. Wolf-Rayet stars are thought to be massive objects on the brink of a cataclysmic supernova explosion – having grown so hot and bright that their intense light begins to drive material away in a stellar wind. The problem is, their starlight would also be so intense that any dust flakes should be destroyed! A possible solution to this dusty dilemma is that a companion star exists hidden in the bright central region, generating wind interactions which shield a relatively narrow dust forming region from the light of WR 104. As the binary system rotates, the spray of surviving dust particles appears to spiral outward.

Credit: U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, W.M. Keck Observatory