Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 2005 June 12 - M2 9: Wings of a Butterfly Nebula
Explanation: Are stars better appreciated for their art after they die? Actually, stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. In the case of low-mass stars like our Sun and M2-9 pictured above, the stars transform themselves from normal stars to white dwarfs by casting off their outer gaseous envelopes. The expended gas frequently forms an impressive display called a planetary nebula that fades gradually over thousand of years. M2-9, a butterfly planetary nebula 2100 light-years away shown in representative colours, has wings that tell a strange but incomplete tale. In the centre, two stars orbit inside a gaseous disk 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The expelled envelope of the dying star breaks out from the disk creating the bipolar appearance. Much remains unknown about the physical processes that cause planetary nebulae.
APOD: 2003 June 14 - The Planetary Nebula Show
Explanation: What do the Owl, the Cat's Eye, the Ghost of Jupiter, and Saturn have in common? They're all planetary nebulae of course, glowing gaseous shrouds shed by dying sun-like stars as they run out of nuclear fuel. Beautiful to look at, the symmetric, planet-like shapes of these cosmic clouds, typically 1,000 times the size of our solar system, evoke their popular names. Flipping through digital pictures made by participants in the Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Centre's Advanced Observing Program, astronomer Adam Block created this delightful animation. Ten different planetary nebula images are presented, each registered on the central star. In order, their catalogue designations are NGC 1535, NGC 3242 (Ghost of Jupiter), NGC 6543 (Cat's Eye), NGC 7009 (Saturn Nebula), NGC 2438, NGC 6772, Abell 39, NGC 7139, NGC 6781, and M97 (Owl Nebula). This glorious final phase in the life of a star lasts only about 10,000 years.
APOD: 2002 November 8 - NGC 6369: The Little Ghost Nebula
Explanation: This pretty planetary nebula, catalogued as NGC 6369, was discovered by 18th century astronomer William Herschel as he used a telescope to explore the constellation Ophiucus. Round and planet-shaped, the nebula is also relatively faint and has acquired the popular moniker of Little Ghost Nebula. Planetary nebulae in general are not at all related to planets, but instead are created at the end of a sun-like star's life as its outer layers expand into space while the star's core shrinks to become a white dwarf. The transformed white dwarf star, seen near the centre, radiates strongly at ultraviolet wavelengths and powers the expanding nebula's glow. Surprisingly complex details and structures of NGC 6369 are revealed in this delightful colour image composed from Hubble Space Telescope data. The nebula's main ring structure is about a light-year across and the glow from ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms are coloured blue, green, and red respectively. Over 2,000 light-years away, the Little Ghost Nebula offers a glimpse of the fate of our Sun, which should produce its own pretty planetary nebula only about 5 billion years from now.
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