Hey, McDonalds, you’re too late! There already are hamburgers in space. NASA announced Aug. 1 that the Hubble Space Telescope has recorded a high-resolution image of an object that looks just like a giant burger. In this case, however, the bun is two regions where light has scattered off dust from a dying star, and the patty is a dark band of dust sandwiched between them.
The sunlike star itself lies hidden behind a thick disk of gas and dust. Although the star’s light can’t travel through the disk, it does emerge perpendicular to it, reflecting off grains of dust above and below the star. The meaty dark band represents the dusty disk’s shadow.
Scientists had dubbed the object Gomez’ Hamburger in honor of Arturo Gomez of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in La Serena, Chile, who discovered the object from there in 1985. Since then, the star has been recorded as it goes through a short-lived phase near the end of its life.
When a sunlike star reaches its twilight years, it balloons and then ejects its outer layers, as Gomez’ Hamburger has done. In less than 1,000 years, the exposed core will heat up and ultraviolet radiation will stream out, setting the ejected gas aglow and creating a striking tableau known as a planetary nebula.