Skywatch

  • September 28, 2006

    Episode 59: Pinwheel Stars

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    Shownotes

    In the dusty center of the Milky Way lies the Quintuplet Cluster - five bright stars surrounded by hundreds of lesser stars. The cluster was discovered in 1990 by peering through the dust with infrared telescopes. Since then scientists have debated the character of this odd object - were the stars old or young, and how did they form? Scientists using the Keck Telescope - the largest optical telescope in the world - have taken a closer look at the cluster's brightest stars. They discovered that the stars are at the end of their lives and about to go supernova. The bright, massive stars burn through their fuel quickly, so they won't be terribly old when they finally explode. Scientists found spiral shapes around two of the stars in the cluster. The stars' mutual gravity pulls material from each other's atmosphere, causing fiery pinwheel shapes to form within the cluster. These spiral shapes are the size of our entire solar system.