Astronomers discover sandstorms in space
Published 12/04/2012 | 00:00
Sandstorms in space have been discovered by astronomers watching the death-throes of giant stars.
Three “red giants” were observed having their atmospheres ripped away by a “superwind” containing dusty grains of silica.
The grains were unexpectedly large in size for stellar wind particles, measuring almost a micrometer across.
They were driven into space by starlight at rocket-velocity speeds of around 20,000mph.
The discovery, made by astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, is reported in the journal Nature.
Scientists previously knew that many stars end their lives with a “superwind” that removes as much as half of their mass over a period of around 10,000 years.
Eventually only a dying and fading remnant of the star is left.
The Sun will start to undergo this fatal process in around five billion years after expanding in size to become a red giant.