VY Canis Majoris
Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, scoots across the south on winter nights. It's in the constellation Canis Major, the big dog.
Sirius looks so bright mainly because it's one of our closest neighbors, at about nine light-years. But one of the big dog's other stars is one of the truly brightest in the galaxy. It's also a chemical factory that's pumping out the raw materials for future stars -- and perhaps planets.
The star is known as VY Canis Majoris. It's not visible to the unaided eye because it's 5,000 light-years away, and it's surrounded by a cocoon of gas and dust that the star itself blew into space.
The cocoon contains a lot of oxygen and carbon, which were manufactured inside the star. Outside the star, these and other atoms have linked up to make molecules of carbon monoxide, sodium chloride, and other compounds. These molecules contain many of the raw ingredients needed for rocky planets like Earth -- and for the type of life that crawls around on Earth's surface.
VY Canis is pumping out enough gas and dust to make a star as massive as the Sun in just a few thousand years. The material is wafting through the galaxy, where it may someday be incorporated into new star systems.
And VY Canis is forging new elements in its core. Someday, the star will explode, and these elements will join the material that's already traveling through space -- raw ingredients from a stellar chemical factory.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2007
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