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TOPIC: Helix nebula


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RE: Helix nebula

A bunch of rowdy comets are colliding and kicking up dust around a dead star, according to new observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The dead star lies at the centre of the much-photographed Helix nebula, a shimmering cloud of gas with an eerie resemblance to a giant eye.

"We were surprised to see so much dust around this star. The dust must be coming from comets that survived the death of their sun" - Dr. Kate Su of the University of Arizona, Tucson, lead author of a paper on the results appearing in the March 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Spitzer's spectacular new view of the Helix nebula shows colours as seen in infrared. The dusty dead star appears as a dot in the middle of the nebula, like a red pupil in a green monster's eye.
The Helix nebula, located about 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, was formed when a star much like our Sun died and sloughed off its skin, or outer layers. Radiation from the dead star's hot core, called a white dwarf, heats the expelled material, causing it to fluoresce with vivid colours. This cosmic beauty, termed a planetary nebula, won't last long. In about 10,000 years, its shiny clouds will fade, leaving the white dwarf and its circling comets to cool down alone in empty space.

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NGC 7293
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This image is made up of data from Spitzer's infrared array camera and multiband imaging photometer. Blue shows infrared light of 3.6 to 4.5 microns; green shows infrared light of 5.8 to 8 microns; and red shows infrared light of 24 microns.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/K. Su (Univ. of Ariz.)

Position (J2000): RA: 22h29m38.55s Dec: -20d49m26.00s



Posts: 131433

Title: The tails in the Helix Nebula NGC 7293
Authors: J.E. Dyson (Leeds, UK), J.M. Pittard (Leeds, UK), J. Meaburn (Manchester, UK), S.A.E.G. Falle (Leeds, UK)

Researchers have examined a stream-source model for the production of the cometary tails observed in the Helix Nebula NGC 7293 in which a transonic or moderately supersonic stream of ionised gas overruns a source of ionised gas. Hydrodynamic calculations reveal velocity structures which are in good agreement with the observational data on tail velocities and are consistent with observations of the nebular structure. The results also are indicative of a stellar atmosphere origin for the cometary globules. Tail remnants persist for timescales long enough for their identification with faint striations visible in the nebula gas to be plausible.

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Posts: 131433

The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) is a challenging stargazing target for amateur astronomers. It is one of the closest planetary nebulas -- a type of nebula formed from gas ejected by a dying sunlike star.
A new portrait of the Helix Nebula, created by the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, has been released at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Although named for its resemblance to a coiling spiral seen face on, the Helix Nebula has a more complex three-dimensional structure. Previous studies showed that it consists of two gaseous disks nearly perpendicular to each other. Observers on Earth view the main disk nearly face on, making it appear more ring-shaped.
In addition to its overall structure, the Helix proved to be surprisingly complex even at the smallest scale visible to Spitzer.

"Most planetary nebulas look diffuse and uniform through telescopes. Because the Helix is so close, we can see more details of its fine structure. Spitzer shows that the Helix is clumpy at very small scales" - Joseph Hora, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA), who leads the team that took the image.

The most striking feature of the Helix, first revealed by ground-based images, is its collection of thousands of distinct blobs that resemble comets due to their compact heads and long, streaming tails. Each "cometary knot" is much larger than an actual comet, spanning about twice the size of our solar system. Each knot holds about an Earth-mass of hydrogen and other gases that were expelled from the nebula's central star thousands of years ago.

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Position (2000): RA: 22h 29m 38.55s Dec: -20 49' 26.0"
The Helix Nebula, which is composed of gaseous shells and disks puffed out by a dying sunlike star, exhibits complex structure on the smallest visible scales. In this new image, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.2, 4.5, and 8.0 microns has been coloured blue, green, and red (respectively). The colour saturation also has been increased to intensify hues. The "cometary knots" show blue-green heads due to excitation of their molecular material from shocks or ultraviolet radiation. The tails of the cometary knots appear redder due to being shielded from the central star's ultraviolet radiation and wind by the heads of the knots.

In the Spitzer image, the cometary knots show peculiar colour-coding with blue-green heads and reddish tails. The bluer, more energetic radiation at the tips comes from molecular hydrogen that has been excited by ultraviolet radiation from the nebula's central star or shocked from its fast-moving stellar wind. The tails lie behind the main body of the knots and are relatively shielded. As a result, they emit redder, less energetic radiation.
The Spitzer image shows a clear trend for the nebula as a whole to become redder at greater distances from the central star. The clumpy appearance extends beyond the innermost part of the nebula, although the distinct cometary features disappear. Overall, the Spitzer image displays a constantly changing region where powerful radiation from a hot stellar core is blasting outward and eroding surrounding material. Eventually, the beautiful gaseous streamers of the Helix will vanish, destroyed by the star that created them in the first place.

The Helix Nebula is located about 650 light-years away towards the constellation Aquarius.

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