Fans of Larry Niven’s superlative Integral Trees series will recognise the gas torus surrounding the red supergiant star WOH 64, located in everyone’s favourite neighbouring dwarf galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. From The Scientific Frontline Observers Gallery:
Comparisons with models led them to conclude that the star is surrounded by a gigantic, thick torus, expanding from about 15 stellar radii (or 120 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun – 120 AU!) to more than 250 stellar radii (or 30 000 AU!).
Everything is huge about this system. The star itself is so big that it would fill almost all the space between the Sun and the orbit of Saturn,” says Ohnaka. “And the torus that surrounds it is perhaps a light-year across! Still, because it is so far away, only the power of interferometry with the VLT could give us a glimpse on this object.
In The Smoke Ring, as in much of Niven’s work – the environment is as big a part of the story as the characters. Niven describes a group of humans living within a vast “smoke ring” surrounding a neutron star.
A gas giant orbiting the star has had it’s atmosphere stripped off by the tidal forces of the neutron star, leaving a long, ring-shaped trail within which organisms have evolved to live in a weightless, three-dimensional world, where the only meaningful direction is “out”.
There are some beautiful artists impressions of WOH 64 – unfortunately there is no suggestion that the gas cloud would be anything less than monstrously uninhabitable, like almost everywhere else in the universe.