PerspectiveAstronomy

A Stellar Swan-Song

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Science  08 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5719, pp. 210-211
DOI: 10.1126/science.1110366

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Summary

Some stars can temporarily avoid fading to oblivion as white dwarfs by re-igniting nuclear burning. In such an event, a hot stellar ember balloons within a few years from about the size of Earth to a cool giant star some 100 times the size of the Sun. About 20% of stars like the Sun are predicted to undergo such an episode, but because this phase is very short, only three such born-again giants have ever been observed in the act. In his Perspective, Asplund describes the discovery by Hajduk et al. that the born-again giant Sakurai's object has started to heat up and contract again, only ~10 years after it first swelled up to gigantic proportions. New stellar evolution calculations can explain the extremely rapid transformation of the star.