Most folks will tell you that nebulae are formed by supernovae. That is true but it is not the only way that large clouds of gas from which the building blocks of life and new solar systems are created. Smaller stars like our own Sun also throw off nebulae, they are called planetary nebulae and they are much smaller than the flashy end products of super-giants exploding.
The picture above is of the newest one of this small scale nebulae. What makes it particularly cool is that this one was found by an amateur astronomer working in conjunction with NASA. His name is Matthias Kronberger of Austria. He is part of a group of amateur astronomers called Deep Sky Hunters.
The nebula is in the constellation of Cygnus and is named Kronberger 61. Just in case you were wondering it is not the sixty first such object Mr. Kronberger has found, but it is the third.
How did they find it? A lot of pains taking work going over existing data, that is how. The Kepler telescope has been peering out into the same area of space for quite a while. This generates a ton of data and not all of it can be gone over by the scientists which is where the Deep Sky Hunters come in.
They spend their time reviewing data and then when they find something interesting they report it to NASA who looks into it in more detail.
The picture comes form the Gemini Observatory way atop Mt. Hilo in Hawaii. Now I know all you space cadets are wondering about the color. Well it is twice ionized oxygen thrown out by the dying M type star you can just make out as a blue dot in the center of the nebula.
Imagine that you are a M type star. You’ve burned for a long time, busily fusion hydrogen into helium and then fusing that as well into more and more complex and heavier elements. Over time your radius expanded to about the size of the orbit of Earth, absorbing and incinerating any close in planets.
Eventually there is not enough fuel for to sustain fusion. You get to the point where fusing actually costs energy and it eventually stops all together. This has not relieved you of any of your mass, it is has just robbed you of the furnace that keeps you inflated.
Slowly at first, but always gaining speed the outer boundaries of the yourself start to fall back to the center, getting faster and faster. Eventually they meet at the what used to be your center. They are moving inward in a sphere, and they are moving fast.
This provides the energy for a short ignition, really more of an explosion, which flings a shell of those end stage fusion products out in a huge burst. What does not escape eventually falls back and the process happens again, only slightly smaller.
This is what we believe has caused the 3,000 or so planetary nebulae we have found out the universe so far. It is the last gasps of energy and matter evaporating off of long lived stars. That being said the full understanding of how these object form is still evolving. The prevailing theory is that they only happen when there is a companion star or other planets close to the dying star. But that that is the subject of hot debate.
And in this case it is has provided us with another gorgeous wonder to enjoy.
What is on your minds tonight Firedogs? The floor is yours!