Stunning new Hubble images reveal stars gone haywire
NEW DELHI [Maha Media]: The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope demonstrates its full range of imaging capabilities with two new images of planetary nebulae. The images depict two nearby young planetary nebulae, NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, and NGC 7027. Both are among the dustiest planetary nebulae known and both contain unusually large masses of gas, which made them an interesting pair for study in parallel by a team of researchers.
As nuclear fusion engines, most stars live placid lives for hundreds of millions to billions of years. But near the end of their lives, they can turn into crazy whirligigs, puffing off shells and jets of hot gas. Astronomers have used Hubble to dissect such crazy fireworks happening in these two planetary nebulae. The researchers have found unprecedented levels of complexity and rapid changes in the jets and gas bubbles blasting off of the stars at the centre of each nebula. Hubble is now allowing the researchers to converge on an understanding of the mechanisms underlying this chaos.
The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged these objects before, but not for many years and never before with the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument across its full wavelength range -- making observations in near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light.
"These new multi-wavelength Hubble observations provide the most comprehensive view to date of both of these spectacular nebulae," said Joel Kastner of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, leader of the new study. "As I was downloading the resulting images, I felt like a kid in a candy store," he added.
The new Hubble images reveal in vivid detail how both nebulae are splitting themselves apart on extremely short timescales -- allowing astronomers to see changes over the past couple of decades. In particular, Hubble's broad multi-wavelength views of each nebula are helping the researchers to trace the histories of shock waves in them.
Such shocks are typically generated when fresh, fast stellar winds slam into and sweep up more slowly expanding gas and dust ejected by the star in its recent past, generating bubble-like cavities with well-defined walls. Researchers suspect that at the heart of each nebula were two stars orbiting around each other. Evidence for such a central "dynamic duo" comes from the bizarre shapes of these nebulas. Each has a pinched, dusty waist and polar lobes or outflows, as well as other, more complex symmetrical patterns.