The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shows R Sculptoris, a dying star, making its exit with a very cool spiral pattern.
Here's a succinct explanation like only Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait can muster:
"When a star like the Sun (either a bit less massive, or up to about 8 times as massive) ages, the core heats up, which causes the outer part of the star to expand (like a hot air balloon), turning it into a red giant
helium builds up in a thin shell outside the star's core, where it fuses into carbon. The fusion rate is insanely sensitive to temperature, and periodic imbalances in temperature cause vast and very sudden increases in the fusion rate
. Called a thermal pulse, this huge fireball of energy is dumped into the star's interior, blows upward like a tsunami, and then blasts material clear off the star's surface."
Be sure to glance at the video below — it used ALMA data to show how the shell and spiral design was first formed.
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