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Using a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, astronomers have discovered a new star where spun-off stellar material is being dragged into a spiralling tail.
WR104: a spiral pinwheel star. This is a movie based on real time-lapse images from April, June and September 1998 (c/o Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley).
Star WR104 is one of about 200 known so-called Wolf-Rayet stars (named after their discoverers). Such stars are in a phase where they are hot, massive and extremely luminous - typically three times the size, 25 times heavier and 100,000 times brighter than our own sun. In this relatively short-lived Wolf-Rayet phase, the pressure of the intensely bright emitted light can expel the star's outer atmosphere.
Not all Wolf-Rayet stars will form a spiralling tail. The reason why WR104 appears as it does is that it has a companion star. As the two stars orbit around each other, WR104 shoots material around its companion and the circling orbits drag this into a spiral.