Incredible new images from the hubble space telescope reveal near-dead stars that blast hot gas into deep space in strange but surprising ways.
By studying those images, scientists now suspect that two spectacular nebulae each is powered by a pair of merging stars. As they do so, the stars spit shock energy waves through the surrounding gas and dust that the stars had previously filtered. Scientists used the entire range of Hubble instruments
“When I searched the Hubble archive and found that no one had observed these nebulae with the Hubble 3 wide-field camera in their entire wavelength range, I was left on the ground,” said Joel Kastner, a specialist in astronomical imaging at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and I led the new study’s author, he said in a statement.
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Hubble has studied many nebulae during his 30-year career, of course. But most of those images have been based primarily on near-infrared and optical light, according to the scientists behind the new research. The new images also add near-ultraviolet light, incorporating the full range of wavelengths of light that Hubble can observe.
“When I was downloading the resulting images, I felt like a kid in a candy store,” said Kastner. “These new Hubble multi-wavelength observations provide the most comprehensive view to date of these two spectacular nebulae“
Those nebulae are formally known as NGC 6303 and NGC 7027. The first one is called Butterfly nebula because it seems to sprout two large and delicate wings; The latter reminds researchers of the current project of a jewel insect with a hard metal casing. Both nebulae are relatively young, and the Butterfly Nebula is particularly well studied.
But despite abundant previous studies of the nebula, scientists see new details in the new Hubble observations, particularly the pink S-shaped line that runs from the top right to the bottom left of the image. That line marks a specific type of iron called individually ionized iron, unusual in structures like this.
“This iron emission is a sensitive marker for energy collisions between slower winds and faster winds from stars,” said Bruce Balick, an astronomer at the University of Washington and co-author of the new research, in the same statement. “It is commonly seen in supernova remnants and active galactic nucleiand jets that come out of newborn stars, but are rarely seen in planetary nebulae. “
Furthermore, scientists say the twisted and asymmetric nature of iron emissions suggests that the Butterfly Nebula, which is 2,500 to 3,800 light-years away from Earth, is home to two unevenly paired stars.
Meanwhile, the jewel-like nebula shows a different kind of violent activity. “Recently, something went crazy in the center, producing a new cloverleaf pattern, with bullets of material fired in specific directions,” said Kastner.
He and his colleagues believe that here, 3,000 light-years away from Earth, a huge red giant star has recently swallowed its companion star. If this hypothesis is correct, the shell-shaped bubbles are made of gas that is slowly ejected over the long death spiral of the stars, while the most angular interior emissions date from the pair’s collision.
In both cases, the fusions at the heart of the nebulae appear to be responsible for their dramatic appearances, according to scientists.
“The star fusion hypothesis seems the best and simplest explanation for the characteristics observed in the most active and symmetrical planetary nebulae,” said Balick. “It is a powerful unifying concept, so far unrivaled.”
The research is described in a paper published June 15 in the magazine Galaxies.
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