Hubble sees a planetary nebula in the making

Oct 12, 2012
Credit: ESA/NASA

(—The Universe is filled with mysterious objects. Many of them are as strange as they are beautiful. Among these, planetary nebulae are probably one of the most fascinating objects to behold in the night sky. No other type of object has such a large variety of shapes and structures. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provided us with a striking image of Hen 3-1475, a planetary nebula in the making.

Planetary nebulae—the name arises because most of these objects resembled a planet when they were first discovered through early telescopes—are expanding, glowing shells of gas coming from sun-like stars at the ends of their lives. They glow brightly because of the radiation that comes from a hot, compact core, which remains after the outer envelope is ejected, and is powerful enough to make these gossamer shells shine.

Each is complex and unique. Hen 3-1475 is a great example of a planetary nebula in the making, a phase which is known to astronomers as a protoplanetary or preplanetary nebula.

Since the central star has not yet blown away its complete shell, the star is not hot enough to ionize the shell of gas and so the nebula does not shine. Rather, we see the expelled gas thanks to light reflected off it. When the star's envelope is fully ejected, it will begin to glow and become a planetary nebula.

Hen 3-1475 is located in the of around 18,000 light-years away from us. The central star is more than 12,000 times as luminous as our sun. Its most characteristic feature is a thick ring of dust around the central star and two S-shaped jets that are emerging from the pole regions of the . These jets are long outflows of fast-moving gas travelling at hundreds of kilometers per second.

The formation of these bipolar jets has puzzled astronomers for a long time. How can a spherical star form these complex structures? Recent studies suggest that the object's characteristic shape and the large velocity outflow is created by a central source that ejects streams of gas in opposite directions and precesses once every thousand years. Precession means a change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotating body. It is like an enormous, slowly rotating garden sprinkler in the middle of the sky. No wonder astronomers also have nicknamed this object the "Garden-sprinkler Nebula."

This picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, which provides significantly higher resolution than previous observations made with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

Explore further: Image: The tumultuous heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud

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User comments : 5

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1 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2012
Duh....This is also a way larger spiral structures form. Likely this large unstable star also periodically erupts explosively, forming the shells. Just more support LaViolette's model. The vast range of combinations of precessing jets combined with explosive eruptions can produce the tremendous variety of structures that continue to confound confused astronomers.
1 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
There's the twisting birkeland currents, and there is the z-pinch. Clearly this is another example of a plasma focus discharge.
3.5 / 5 (11) Oct 12, 2012
It's funny when the crackpots can't agree with each other.
3.5 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
There's the twisting birkeland currents, and there is the z-pinch. Clearly this is another example of a plasma focus discharge.

So happy am I. I was afraid I'd have to forgo my daily dose of plasma news.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2012
It's funny when the crackpots can't agree with each other.

Surely they are just trolling. Anyone with enough education to have a serious opinion would also know better than to support such an opinion.

It's difficult to imagine what this thing would look like from close up, like from the surface of a planet orbiting the star. Imagine how cool the night sky would look there. I know, it wouldn't be a very pleasant place to live, but it's still fun to imagine. Similarly, there should be newly formed stars, and perhaps some with planets, inside some of the larger star-forming nebulae. Imagine, for example, standing on a planet inside the horsehead nebula. Our little corner of the galaxy is just so plain and boring, but also nice and safe, relatively speaking.

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