Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Space Ant for study

Planetary Nebula Mz3: the Ant by Hubble space telescope
Click on the NASA/APOD link below the image to see this extraordinary Hubble photo in its glory.

What You See Is What You Get. The photo of the Ant planetary nebula (PN) is piece of art to most of us, a curious formation seen here in great detail through the eye of the most powerful telescope human's have built so far. But for professionals the image (and others like it taken at different wavelengths) is the most important source of information for stellar study. It is truly amazing what we ant-like little creatures on a tiny planet have learned from images like this taken by instruments built by us for that purpose.

"Mz 3 was discovered by Donald Howard Menzel in 1922. It was studied on July 20, 1997 by astronomers Bruce Balick (University of Washington) and Vincent Icke (Leiden University) on observations done with the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope was later used on June 30, 1998 by Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to picture the PN." wikipedia

Here is a compact explanation written by a professional astronomer for the general public telling about leading theories to explain the unusual nebula
Why then would the gas that is streaming away create an ant-shaped nebula that is distinctly not round? Clues might include the high 1000-kilometer per second speed of the expelled gas, the light-year long length of the structure, and the magnetism of the star visible above at the nebula's center. One possible answer is that Mz3 is hiding a second, dimmer star that orbits close in to the bright star. A competing hypothesis holds that the central star's own spin and magnetic field are channeling the gas.

An anonymous writer of wikipedia article discusses theories explaining this amazing gas cloud
Mz 3 is a complex system composed of three nested pairs of bipolar lobes and an equatorial ellipse. Its lobes all share the same axis of symmetry but each have very different morphologies and opening angles. It is an unusual  in that it is believed, by some researchers, to contain a symbiotic binary at its center.

Study suggests that the dense nebular gas at its center may have originated from a source different from that of its extended lobes. The working model to explain this hypothesizes that this PN is composed of a giant companion that caused a central dense gas region to form, and a white dwarf that provides ionizing photons for the PN.
For a professional discussion see for example Santander-Garcia et. al. Menzel 3: Dissecting the ant

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