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Hubble telescope observes freaky antics of 'Nasty 1' star

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope say the star nicknamed Nasty 1 (Miss Jackson if...) doesn't behave like a typical star of its kind. Hence its bad-boy image and name.

An artist's rendering of "Nasty 1," the name for an oddly behaving star that was not actually named after a rapper who didn't take a lot of time to think up a good stage name. NASA/ESA/G. Bacon

The founders of the famed Star Registry may have had the best intentions, but letting just anyone name a star always seemed like a bad idea to me. There's just so much potential for mischief -- and I should know because if I had the chance to name a star, there would be a shimmering place in the sky called "GassyNixon666" before you could say, "Grow up."

It turns out that not even super-smart astronomers can pass up such a tantalizing naming opportunity. They've made some new discoveries about a strange star nicknamed "Nasty 1," according to the official Hubble Space Telescope website.

The weird nickname, derived from the star's catalog name, NaSt1, comes because the star itself exhibits some odd behavior. It's a Wolf-Rayet star, but it doesn't behave like one. Instead of seeing twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of the star, as expected, they observed "a pancake-shaped disk of gas encircling the star" that is "nearly 1,000 times the diameter of our solar system," according to the Hubble website.

Typically, these types of stars swell up as they run out of hydrogen and the outer layer becomes more vulnerable to "gravitational stripping" by other nearby stars. Once the helium center of the star is exposed, it becomes a Wolf-Rayet star.

Sometimes the stripped matter spills out as the stars struggle with each other's gravity, and scientists believe that's what formed this strange disc, said Jon Mauerhan, an assistant researcher for the University of Berkeley's Department of Astronomy who is leading the study on Nasty 1. The research appears in Thursday's online edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname," Mauerhan said.

He also noted that catching these stars in this strange act of aggressive expansion can help astronomers better understand how they are formed -- and hopefully lead to more cool nicknames like "Bloater" and "Bluto."

The star's name comes from the original catalog name it received upon its discovery back in 1963. Its real name is "NaSt1" using the first two letters of the two astronomers, Jason Nassau and Charles Stephenson, who first found it. Astronomers, however, prefer "Nasty 1."

It's only a matter of time before some deranged Janet Jackson fan gets a hold of another star and decides to name it "Nasty 2."