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Old smokers: astronomers discover giant ancient stars in Milky Way

Guess what astronomers just stumbled upon? A bunch of elderly stars right at the heart of our Milky Way, and they’ve got a flair for drama! Dubbed “old smokers,” these stars were chilling in the cosmic corner, nearly disappearing from our view. Suddenly, though, they decided to puff out massive clouds of dust and gas, and it’s got scientists buzzing.

This cosmic revelation unfolded during a 10-year survey of the night sky, where nearly a billion stars were under the watchful eye of Professor Philip Lucas and his team at the University of Hertfordshire. According to Lucas, “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.”

Originally on a mission to catch newborn stars having a growth spurt, the astronomers hit the jackpot, spotting 32 protostars brightening up the cosmic scene by 40 to a whopping 300 times. But the plot thickened when another group of red giant stars near the Milky Way’s center stole the show. Seven of them turned out to be a new type of red giant star, affectionately named “old smokers.” What’s their secret? Lucas thinks convection currents and instabilities within these stars are triggering the release of massive columns of cosmic smoke.

“These are solar system-sized clouds. Our guess is that these are puffs of dust in one direction, possibly from one patch on the surface of the star,” Lucas explains.

And hold on, this isn’t just about a cosmic spectacle. The material these aging stars toss into interstellar space is a key player in sowing the seeds for the next batch of stars. Lucas emphasizes, “The discovery of a new type of star that throws off matter could have wider significance for the spread of heavy elements in the nuclear disc and metal-rich regions of other galaxies.” So, beyond the dazzling light show, there’s some serious cosmic gardening happening out there!

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