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Mira, A Real Shooting Star

This artist’s animation illustrates a star flying through our galaxy at supersonic speeds, leaving a 13-light-year-long trail of glowing material in its wake. The star, named Mira (pronounced my-rah) after the Latin word for “wonderful,” sheds material that will be recycled into new stars, planets and possibly even life.

NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer discovered the long trail of material behind Mira during its survey of the entire sky in ultraviolet light.

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Why does the trailing hydrogen gas glow in ultraviolet light? When it is heated, it transitions into a higher-energy state, which then loses energy by emitting ultraviolet light – a process known as fluorescence.  Finally, the artist’s rendering gives way to the actual ultraviolet image taken by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer.

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.