SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends affecting science, medicine and the environment : Unstable Star Spewing Blasts of Laser Light, Astronomers Say

From Times staff and wire reports

An unstable star several times brighter than the sun is sending out blasts of laser light that would put Darth Vader to shame, according to astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope. The energetic star, Eta Carinae, appears to be bursting out in periodic eruptions that spew gaseous jets into space. Or at least that's one interpretation of the data.

The international team that found the geysers noticed unnaturally bright emissions by electrified iron atoms--something they could only explain as laser light. Natural lasers occur in space. Masers--microwave lasers--were discovered dozens of years ago, and the first infrared laser was discovered last year. Eta Carinae, 8,000 light-years from Earth, appears to be sending out the first known laser light in high-energy ultraviolet light.

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