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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 17:34 EDT

Dying Nebula May Foretell Fate Of Our Solar System

July 26, 2011

Answers about the ultimate fate of our planet and solar system may have been discovered by a team of researchers that could also help resolve a decades-old debate about the impact of stellar companions have on the formation and structure of planetary nebulae, UPI is reporting.

The team of astronomers including Associate Professor Orsola De Marco from Sydney’s Macquarie University, announced the existence of the planetary nebula named Kronberger 61, discovered by an amateur astronomer.

The round planetary nebula resembles a soccer ball in deep space and could give clues such as how their formation may be shaped by companions like stars or planets.

More than 3,000 planetary nebulae have been observed in our region of the Milky Way galaxy so far, but De Marco says Kronberger 61, “is among a rather small collection strategically placed within Kepler’s gaze”.

“Explaining the puffs left behind when medium-sized stars like our sun expel their last breaths is a source of heated debate among astronomers, especially the part that companions might play,” De Marco explains.

“Planetary nebulae present a profound mystery that literally keeps us up at night. Some recent theories suggest that planetary nebulae form only in close binary or even planetary systems. On the other hand, the conventional textbook explanation is that most stars, even solo stars like our sun, will meet this fate,” but, “that might just be too simple.”

A key question with planetary nebulae is how companions (stars or planets) close to around the central, primary star might impact the complex structures seen in many planetary nebulae.

Of the 3,000 planetary nebulae discovered so far, only about 20 percent of planetary nebulae have been found with companions. Astronomers believe this may due to the companion being too small or distant for current ground-based telescopes. It is hoped the space-based Kepler telescope will find more.

De Marco concludes, “With a sufficient sample of planetary nebulae, Kepler could help us understand these objects and may even put to rest the 30-year old debate about the origin of these nebulae.”

“Planetary nebulae present a profound mystery. Some recent theories suggest that planetary nebulae form only in close binary or even planetary systems. On the other hand, the conventional textbook explanation is that most stars, even solo stars like our sun, will meet this fate. That might just be too simple.”

Image Caption: Gemini Observatory image of Kronberger 61 showing the ionized shell of expelled gas resembling a soccer ball. The light of the nebula here is primarily due to emission from twice-ionized oxygen, and its central star can be seen as the slightly bluer star very close to the center of the nebula. The field of view is 2.2 x 3.4 arcminutes with north up (rotated 22 degrees west of north). Image processing by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage. A color composite image, it consists of two narrow-band images ([O III] and hydrogen alpha with three, 500-second integrations each) obtained with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) on the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai”Ëœi. Below the bright star at left is a barred spiral galaxy in the distant background, careful inspection will reveal several additional distant galaxies in the image.

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