When it comes to cosmic eye candy, planetary nebulae are at the top of the candy bowl. Like fingerprints—or maybe fireworks displays—each one is different. What factors are at work to make them so unique from one another?Continue reading “Each Planetary Nebula is Unique. Why Do They Look So Different?”
The Formation of the Southern Ring Nebula was Messier Than the Death of a Single Star
Two thousand five hundred years ago, during the height of the bronze age, an old red star died. Its outer layers expanded over time, becoming what is now known as the Southern Ring Nebula, or less romantically, NGC 3132. By the looks of it, this planetary nebula looks like many others. As Sun-like stars die, they swell to become red giants before becoming a white dwarf, and their outer layers typically become a planetary nebula. But a recent study finds that this particular nebula formed in a way quite messier than we had thought.Continue reading “The Formation of the Southern Ring Nebula was Messier Than the Death of a Single Star”
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ESO Finds the Ghostly Image of a Dying Star
Astronomical images never cease to delight, and the European Southern Observatory’s image of the Vela nebula is no exception.Continue reading “ESO Finds the Ghostly Image of a Dying Star”
20 Years of Hubble Photos Show how the Stingray Nebula is Fading
The Stingray Nebula is the youngest known planetary nebula. For half a century astronomers have witnessed its formation, and now they’ve noticed something strange: it’s fading away.Continue reading “20 Years of Hubble Photos Show how the Stingray Nebula is Fading”
New Hubble Photos of Planetary Nebulae
Planetary nebulae are astronomy’s gateway drug. Their eye-catching forms make us wonder what process created them, and what else is going on up there in the night sky. They’re some of the most beautiful, ephemeral looking objects in all of nature.
The Hubble Space Telescope is responsible for many of our most gorgeous images of planetary nebulae. But the images are more than just engrossing eye candy. They’re documentation of a complex process that plays out over tens of thousands of years, all across the Universe.
And they’re a death knell for the star that dwells within.Continue reading “New Hubble Photos of Planetary Nebulae”
Planets Started Out From Dust Clumping Together. Here’s How
According to the most widely accepted theory of planet formation (the Nebular Hypothesis), the Solar System began roughly 4.6 billion years ago from a massive cloud of dust and gas (aka. a nebula). After the cloud experienced gravitational collapse at the center, forming the Sun, the remaining gas and dust fell into a disk that orbited it. The planets gradually accreted from this disk over time, creating the system we know today.
However, until now, scientists have wondered how dust could come together in microgravity to form everything from stars and planets to asteroids. However, a new study by a team of German researchers (and co-authored by Rutgers University) found that matter in microgravity spontaneously develops strong electrical charges and stick together. These findings could resolve the long mystery of how planets formed.Continue reading “Planets Started Out From Dust Clumping Together. Here’s How”
This Star Has Reached the End of its Life
About 10,000 light years away, in the constellation Centaurus, is a planetary nebula called NGC 5307. A planetary nebula is the remnant of a star like our Sun, when it has reached what can be described as the end of its life. This Hubble image of NGC 5307 not only makes you wonder about the star’s past, it makes you ponder the future of our very own Sun.Continue reading “This Star Has Reached the End of its Life”
Can You Spot a Planetary Nebula from a Few Blurry Pixels? Astronomers Can – Here’s How
A planetary nebula is one of the most beautiful objects in the universe. Formed from the decaying remnants of a mid-sized star like a sun, no two are alike. Cosmically ephemeral, they last for only about 10,000 years – a blink of a cosmic eye. And yet they are vitally important, as their processed elements spread and intermingle with the interstellar medium in preparation for forming a new generation of stars. So studying them is important for understanding stellar evolution. But unlike their stellar brethren, since no two are alike, it’s hard to efficiently pick them out of astronomical deep-sky surveys. Thankfully, a research team has recently developed a method for doing just that, and their work could open up the door to fully understanding the great circle of stellar life.Continue reading “Can You Spot a Planetary Nebula from a Few Blurry Pixels? Astronomers Can – Here’s How”
Messier 76 – the NGC 650/651 Planetary Nebula
Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the “little dumbbell” itself, the planetary nebula known as Messier 76!
During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noticed the presence of several “nebulous objects” while surveying the night sky. Originally mistaking these objects for comets, he began to catalog them so that others would not make the same mistake. Today, the resulting list (known as the Messier Catalog) includes over 100 objects and is one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Space Objects.
One of these objects is the Messier 76 (aka. the Little Dumbbell Nebula, the Barbell Nebula, or the Cork Nebula) a planetary nebula located about 2,500 light years away in the Perseus Constellation. While it is easy to find because of its proximity to the Cassiopeia Constellation (located just south of it), the faintness of this nebula makes it one of the more difficult Messier Objects to observe. Continue reading “Messier 76 – the NGC 650/651 Planetary Nebula”
Binary Stars Orbiting Each Other INSIDE a Planetary Nebula
Planetary nebulae are a fascinating astronomical phenomena, even if the name is a bit misleading. Rather than being associated with planets, these glowing shells of gas and dust are formed when stars enter the final phases of their lifespan and throw off their outer layers. In many cases, this process and the subsequent structure of the nebula is the result of the star interacting with a nearby companion star.
Recently, while examining the planetary nebula M3-1, an international team of astronomers noted something rather interesting. After observing the nebula’s central star, which is actually a binary system, they noticed that the pair had an incredibly short orbital period – i.e. the stars orbit each other once every 3 hours and 5 minutes. Based on this behavior, the pair are likely to merge and trigger a nova explosion.
Continue reading “Binary Stars Orbiting Each Other INSIDE a Planetary Nebula”