Image: The ghost of a dying star

The ghost of a dying star
This extraordinary bubble, glowing like the ghost of a star in the haunting darkness of space, may appear supernatural and mysterious, but it is a familiar astronomical object: a planetary nebula, the remnants of a dying star. This is the best view of the little-known object ESO 378-1 yet obtained and was captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. Credit: ESO

This extraordinary bubble, glowing like the ghost of a star in the haunting darkness of space, may appear supernatural and mysterious, but it is a familiar astronomical object: a planetary nebula, the remnants of a dying star. This is the best view of the little-known object ESO 378-1 yet obtained and was captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope in northern Chile.

Nicknamed the Southern Owl Nebula, this shimmering orb is a planetary nebula with a diameter of almost four light-years. Its informal name relates to its visual cousin in the northern hemisphere, the Owl Nebula. ESO 378-1, which is also catalogued as PN K 1-22 and PN G283.6+25.3, is located in the constellation of Hydra (The Female Water Snake).

Like all planetary nebulae, ESO 378-1 is a relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting only a few tens of thousands of years, compared to a typical stellar lifetime of several billion years.

Planetary nebulae are created by the ejected and expanding gas of dying stars. Although they are brilliant and intriguing objects in the initial stages of formation, these bubbles fade away as their constituent gas moves away and the central stars grow dimmer.

For a planetary nebula to form, the aging star must have a mass less than about eight times that of the Sun. Stars that are heavier than this limit will end their lives in dramatic fashion as supernova.

As these less massive stars grow old they start to lose their outer layers of gas to stellar winds. After most of these outer layers have dissipated, the remaining hot stellar core starts to emit ultraviolet radiation which then ionises the surrounding gas. This ionisation causes the expanding shell of ghostly gas to begin to glow in bright colours.

After the planetary nebula has faded away, the leftover stellar remnant will burn for another billion years before consuming all its remaining fuel. It will then become a tiny - but hot and very dense - white dwarf that will slowly cool over billions of years. The Sun will produce a several billion years in the future and will afterwards also spend its twilight years as a white dwarf.

Planetary nebulae play a crucial role in the chemical enrichment and evolution of the Universe. Elements such as carbon and nitrogen, as well as some other heavier elements, are created in these stars and returned to the interstellar medium. Out of this material new stars, planets and eventually life can form. Hence astronomer Carl Sagan's famous phrase: "We are made of star stuff."

This picture comes from the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO's science archive.


Explore further

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

Provided by ESO
Citation: Image: The ghost of a dying star (2015, August 5) retrieved 16 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-08-image-ghost-dying-star.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
279 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Aug 05, 2015
Sol's system is about 4. 5 light years away from the Centauri A&B and Proxima. The Oort shell can easily be described as a planetary nebula then. In fact this theory would then easily describe the rocky planets as a result of the expulsion of 'dirty gas'--metalized gas--from the condensing sun, a Liquid Metallic Hydrogen sun.

Aug 05, 2015
The Oort claud is invisible and fictional. No one ever have observed such cloud. If you involve in science stick to the facts rather than fantasies.

Aug 05, 2015
Sol's system is about 4. 5 light years away from the Centauri A&B and Proxima. The Oort shell can easily be described as a planetary nebula then. In fact this theory would then easily describe the rocky planets as a result of the expulsion of 'dirty gas'--metalized gas--from the condensing sun, a Liquid Metallic Hydrogen sun.


I tend to believe Planetary Nebula are actually the beginning of a star, rather than its end.

What's with the "ultaviolet radiation" thing claim that it would eject this material at the end of the star's life, when the Sun already produces Gamma radiation and a Star is more powerful the more contiguous mass it has.

The description of how this process works is found greatly lacking, pointing to UV as "ionizing radiation", when Gamma is ionizing too, and Helium fusion is only about 1/4th as powerful as Hydrogen fusion.

Model is incomplete at best.

The Sun is incorrectly classified as a "Yellow Dwarf" when it is in fact white.

Aug 05, 2015
The Oort claud is invisible and fictional. No one ever have observed such cloud. If you involve in science stick to the facts rather than fantasies.


Sedna is classified as a "Dwarf Planet", but is believed to be an inner-Oort cloud object.

Interestingly, the Sun's Oort Cloud is believed to have a 2 lyrs radius, and this particular "planetary nebula" has a 2 lyrs radius.

Aug 05, 2015
In the next ten years, we will have a suite of super-telescopes. I can hardly wait.

Aug 05, 2015
It is obvious that the Oort cloud is part of certain beleave system. Аnd is amazing that for undeniable truths professional vouters check one star. Their persistence is touching.

Aug 05, 2015
"1" me silly people.

The "faint blue dot" photograph from Voyager shows our own Sun is still surrounded by massive amounts of dust and debris clouds even within 100ly, which we don't normally think about because the astronomers aim their telescopes in directions where the clouds are less thick.

We are INSIDE a planetary nebula.

Aug 05, 2015
The Sun is incorrectly classified as a "Yellow Dwarf" when it is in fact white.


Skippy all the stars on the main sequence of things are dwarf stars. White dwarfs don't have the fusing stuffs going on any more. Dark nebulas are where the new star planet things form.

But then I read that from the professional astro-Skippy's books, maybe you should write a book to get them all corrected. Non, Cher, not here on the physorg.

Aug 05, 2015
In the next ten years, we will have a suite of super-telescopes. I can hardly wait.

Agreed! I'm particularly excited for the James Webb. Its been such a long wait(I remember when it was planned for 2014 seeming like forever , lol) but the things it will reveal will teach us so much that the wait will be worth it.

Aug 05, 2015
It is obvious that the Oort cloud is part of certain beleave system. Аnd is amazing that for undeniable truths professional vouters check one star. Their persistence is touching.

Which belief system is that? The scientific one? The one you despise because it doesn't credit everything to your god and your claims he prevents us from learning too much because we aren't good enough spiritually to him so its pointless to try?

Aug 05, 2015
Viko,
We've seen structures analogous to the Oort cloud around other stars, they are probably relatively common

Aug 06, 2015
Thanks for the story! I hadn't even imaged this one and it looks quite do-able. Will be reserving some time on one of iTelescope's Aussie mounts and see what I can get. Nice planetary.

A planetary nebula is a result of a process, not just a physical structure. It's like saying the crap encrusted on returner's arse is an asteroid belt because it's composed of particles. You would think living somewhere with good seeing he'd make it out of his mother's basement.

Aug 10, 2015
"1" me silly people.

The "faint blue dot" photograph from Voyager shows our own Sun is still surrounded by massive amounts of dust and debris clouds even within 100ly, which we don't normally think about because the astronomers aim their telescopes in directions where the clouds are less thick.

We are INSIDE a planetary nebula.


The hell are you on about, Willis?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more