Messy Newborn

Messy Newborn

Fifty years ago, a newborn star flared up — it grew a couple of hundred times brighter. It then faded, although not completely — it’s still several times brighter than it was before the flare-up. And astronomers are trying to figure out why.

V1057 Cygni stands quite close to Deneb, the constellation’s brightest star, which is high overhead at nightfall. Although it’s a hundred times brighter than the Sun, it’s about 1700 light-years away, so it’s visible only through a telescope.

V1057 Cygni is only a few million years old. In fact, it’s still taking shape — it continues to pull in gas and dust from the cloud that’s giving it birth. It appears to be encircled by a disk of gas and dust. And it also appears to be blowing out a strong “wind” of gas from its surface.

The star flared up beginning in 1969. It brightened for a while, then faded much more quickly than other stars of its class.

Astronomers have proposed several possible explanations for the flare-up. One says that the star spins so fast that it’s unstable. It sometimes flings off a lot of gas, causing it to brighten — and to slow down a bit.

Other ideas say that the flare-up came from the encircling disk. And still others say it was caused by interactions with a companion star, or with a giant planet in a close orbit.

Whatever the cause, V1057 is likely to stay busy as it completes the process of its birth — before settling down into a long run in the prime of life.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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