Stars

NASA Has Found The First Legit Shooting Star

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The "shooting stars" you look for when you need a sign of good luck? Those are just meteors. But for the first time, the experts at NASA identified a shooting star that's actually a star. The star is called Mira. She looks like a white circle with a long, glowing tail, resembling what we know as shooting stars. According to NASA, this real star "is shedding material that will be recycled into new stars, planets and possibly even life as it hurls through our galaxy."

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Mira is located 350 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cetus, otherwise known as the whale. Coincidentally, Mira and its "whale of a tail" can be found in the tail of the whale constellation.

The Real Deal

NASA's telescopes first got a look at Mira's unique tail using ultraviolet light. That tail is nothing like the flash-in-the-pan streak of light you ordinarily see with a faux shooting star—it's 13 light years long, and trails behind Mira in clouds of hydrogen gas and dust as she travels at 291,000 miles per hour through the Milky Way."When astronomers first saw the picture, they were shocked because Mira has been studied for over 400 years yet nothing like this has ever been documented before," NASA says.

In fact, the star "has released enough material over the past 30,000 years to seed at least 3,000 Earth-sized planets or 9 Jupiter-sized ones," NASA says. We don't have to worry about finding her leftovers, however, because Mira's a distant 350 light years from Earth. She calls a whale constellation named Cetus home.

So if Mira's not the same as the shooting stars we know, what are they? They're meteors; chunks of space rock that are unlucky enough to hit our atmosphere. Once that happens, they hurtle toward the ground at incredible speeds that make the air around them begin to glow, creating a streak of light that's visible for hundreds of miles. So while real stars are hundreds of light years away, so-called "shooting stars" are right here in our own atmosphere.

An Elderly Star

Mira isn't just any star; she's a red giant. When stars become red giants, that means they're getting close to the end of their days. Our own sun will also become a red giant in about five billion years. But in a star's lifespan, "the end of their days" means the end of perhaps 11 billion years of existence—that's a lot of life to live. NASA has identified another object not too far from Mira, known as Mira B, that they believe is a white dwarf. A red giant becomes a white dwarf when it burns down to just the core. And a white dwarf is incredibly dense. In fact, "a teaspoonful of their matter would weigh as much on Earth as an elephant—5.5 tons," according to National Geographic. Mira and Mira B orbit around each other once every 500 years or so, according to NASA.

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