If symmetry is a symbol of splendor, then the newly found Red Square nebula is one of the most stunning objects in the cosmos.
Perceived in the infrared, the nebula looks a lot like a huge, radiant red box in the sky, with a lively white inner core. A dying star called MWC 922 is situated at the system's centre and spewing its innards from opposite poles into space. (A nebula is an intergalactic cloud of gas, dust and plasma where stars can both appear and die.)
"This remarkable event is the death of a star," said research team member James Lloyd of Cornell University. After MWC 922 emits most of its material into space, it will diminish into a dense stellar corpse known as a white dwarf, masked by clouds of its own leftovers.
What is principally amazing about the Red Square, the scientists say, is the amount of symmetry seen in lines, or "rungs," that bisect its exterior. The rungs seem as shadows, and their makeup is undefined.
"The high degree of symmetry in this case may point to the fascinating probability that these bands are shadows fprmed by periodic ripples or waves on the surface of an inner disk nearer to the star at the center of the system," Lloyd said.
The Red Square ranks amongst the most regular objects ever perceived by researchers. "If you fold things across the principle diagonal axis, you get almost faultless reflection regularity," said study leader Peter Tuthill from the University of Sydney in Australia. "This makes the Red Square nebula the most regular/symmetrical object of similar complication ever imaged."
The Red Square's thrilling symmetry proposes the star's surroundings are tremendously immobile and not buffeted by external stellar winds or other turbulence.
The researchers propose that similar conditions are contributing to the extreme symmetry of another system, the Red Rectangle, whose central star is cooler than that of the Red Square.
"The Red Rectangle is mostly symmetrical, but it has some asymmetries," Lloyd told SPACE.com. "It wasn't clear whether it was because the outflow was very symmetrical or whether material in the outflow was encountering some other material" which introduced the symmetry.
The new findings suggest the system's perfect form results from an even outflow of gas. "The reason the Red Square remains so symmetrical is that there is no material that has interfered with the outflow, so it has preserved the symmetry it was born with," Lloyd said.
Tuthill and Lloyd spotted the Red Square using the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory and the Keck-2 Telescope in Hawaii.
Both telescopes utilize a relatively new type of imaging called adaptive optics, which uses a laser guide star as a reference and a rapidly deforming mirror to correct image distortions from the Earth's atmosphere in real time.
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