In a captivating discovery, astronomers have stumbled upon an intriguing group of massive aging stars at the heart of our Milky Way. These celestial entities, playfully named “old smokers,” remained relatively dormant for an extended period, almost fading from view before surprising scientists by emitting expansive clouds of dust and gas. The revelation unfolded during a comprehensive 10-year survey of the night sky, where nearly a billion stars were closely monitored in infrared light.
Leading the observations, Professor Philip Lucas from the University of Hertfordshire explained the phenomenon: “They’re sitting there and just suddenly throwing off matter. It’s a new type of star, and they all seem to be clustered in the same part of the sky, very close to the center of our Milky Way galaxy.”
Initially on a quest to capture the rarely witnessed newborn stars, known as protostars, experiencing a stellar growth spurt, astronomers were taken aback by the appearance of another group of red giant stars near the Milky Way’s core. Further investigation using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope unveiled that seven of these stars belonged to a previously unknown type, now dubbed “old smokers.”
In contrast to their seemingly dormant counterparts, these red giant stars displayed convection currents and instabilities that could trigger the release of substantial columns of smoke, as per Lucas. Describing the emitted clouds as “solar system-sized,” Lucas speculated that they might be dust puffs originating from specific patches on the star’s surface.
Beyond the sheer curiosity of this newfound stellar behavior, the discovery holds broader significance. Material released into interstellar space by aging stars plays a pivotal role in seeding the formation of the next generation of stars. The enigmatic “old smokers” contribute a new layer to our understanding of stellar dynamics and add to the ongoing exploration of the mysteries within our Milky Way galaxy.