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NGC 6543: A Planetary Nebula Gallery
NGC 6543
NGC 6543

  • A planetary nebula results when a star like the sun becomes a red giant and sheds its outer layers.

  • This gallery of four planetary nebulas shows Chandra X-ray data in purple and optical Hubble Space Telescope data in red, green and blue.

  • The diffuse X-ray emission seen with Chandra is caused by shock waves as a wind from the hot remnant of the star collides with the ejected atmosphere.

  • The four planetary nebulas are all located less than 5000 light years from Earth.

This gallery shows four planetary nebulas from the first systematic survey of such objects in the solar neighborhood made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The planetary nebulas shown here are NGC 6543, also known as the Cat's Eye, NGC 7662, NGC 7009 and NGC 6826. In each case, X-ray emission from Chandra is colored purple and optical emission from the Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue.

In the first part of this survey, published in a new paper, twenty one planetary nebulas within about 5000 light years of the Earth have been observed. The paper also includes studies of fourteen other planetary nebulas, within the same distance range, that Chandra had already observed.

A planetary nebula represents a phase of stellar evolution that the Sun should experience several billion years from now. When a star like the Sun uses up all of the hydrogen in its core, it expands into a red giant, with a radius that increases by tens to hundreds of times. In this phase, a star sheds most of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that will soon contract to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful, shell-like filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes.

The diffuse X-ray emission seen in about 30% of the planetary nebulas in the new Chandra survey, and all members of the gallery, is caused by shock waves as the fast wind collides with the ejected atmosphere. The new survey data reveal that the optical images of most planetary nebulas with diffuse X-ray emission display compact shells with sharp rims, surrounded by fainter halos. All of these compact shells have observed ages that are less than about 5000 years, which therefore likely represents the timescale for the strong shock waves to occur.

About half of the planetary nebulas in the study show X-ray point sources in the center, and all but one of these point sources show high energy X-rays that may be caused by a companion star, suggesting that a high frequency of central stars responsible for ejecting planetary nebulas have companions. Future studies should help clarify the role of double stars in determining the structure and evolution of planetary nebulas.

These results were published in the August 2012 issue of The Astronomical Journal. The first two authors are Joel Kastner and Rodolfo Montez Jr. of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, accompanied by 23 co-authors.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Fast Facts for NGC 6543:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  October 10, 2012
Scale  Image is 1.2 arcmin across. (about 1.7 light years)
Category  White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 17h 58m 33.30s | Dec +66'° 37' 59.20"
Constellation  Draco
Observation Dates  10 May, 2000
Observation Time  13 hours
Obs. IDs  630
Instrument  ACIS
References Kastner, J. et al, 2012, AJ, 144, 58; arXiv:1204.6055
Color Code  X-ray (Purple), Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Optical
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 3,000 light years
Fast Facts for NGC 7662:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  October 10, 2012
Scale  Image is 37 arcsec across. (about 0.73 light year)
Category  White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 23h 25m 63.60s | Dec +42 32' 06.00"
Constellation  Andromeda
Observation Dates  15 May, 2012
Observation Time  8 hours 20 min
Obs. IDs  12373
Instrument  ACIS
References Kastner, J. et al, 2012, AJ, 144, 58; arXiv:1204.6055
Color Code  X-ray (Purple), Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Optical
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 4,100 light years
Fast Facts for NGC 7009:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  October 10, 2012
Scale  Image is 1.3 arcmin across. (about 1.8 light year)
Category  White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 21h 04m 10.90s | Dec -11 21' 48.30"
Constellation  Aquarius
Observation Dates  25 June, 2011
Observation Time  8 hours 20 min
Obs. IDs  12381
Instrument  ACIS
References Kastner, J. et al, 2012, AJ, 144, 58; arXiv:1204.6055
Color Code  X-ray (Purple), Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Optical
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 4,700 light years
Fast Facts for NGC 6826:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  October 10, 2012
Scale  Image is 38 arcsec across. (about 0.77 light year)
Category  White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 19h 44m 48.15s | Dec +50 31' 30.26"
Constellation  Cygnus
Observation Dates  11 June & 24 July, 2011
Observation Time  13 hours 46 min
Obs. IDs  7439, 8559
Instrument  ACIS
References Kastner, J. et al, 2012, AJ, 144, 58; arXiv:1204.6055
Color Code  X-ray (Purple), Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Optical
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 4,200 light years
Visitor Comments (7)

Best image.

Posted by shak on Tuesday, 03.5.13 @ 12:50pm


Dear Esther,
Thanks for your suggestion on the names. The nebulas have official names and sometimes they have nicknames. We were not responsible for either.
-P. Edmonds, CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Friday, 11.9.12 @ 11:15am


To understand the properties of Supernova, one may need to understand the properties of Neutron matter and the various Quarks and axion matter that form a pasta. The electric-magnetic duality formed from such bulk ultra dense matter can explain the formation of the hour glass and bubble formations from droplets of condensed matter expanding.
The above explanation by Chandra is very elementary and needs the understanding of modern day astrophysics.

Posted by Harry Costas on Sunday, 10.28.12 @ 10:15am


I loved it. We have been studying this and we estimate various things using the studies of nature's laws. But how can we be so sure about the dance of nature in a particular manner or in accordance to laws? We can show that laws are just the illusion of no law nature. So, whatever NASA or any other scientific organization studies and estimates about anything in nature cannot come true. What if nature is random and has no law?

Posted by Dhiresh Yadav on Wednesday, 10.17.12 @ 06:39am


Your information is very important for me thank you...

Posted by mhamad saeid on Saturday, 10.13.12 @ 17:09pm


Maybe you should ask the public to name those nebula and than get a couple of poets to choose one. The one you call cat's eye is known as God's Eye. Please don't degrade these beautiful 'objects' by giving them these unimaginative names.

Posted by Esther Philips-Sweet on Friday, 10.12.12 @ 04:14am


Fantastic images, as if the star is to launch a net to capture his energy disperses over billions of years for a new beginning.
Very very wonderful.

Posted by carlos tatis on Wednesday, 10.10.12 @ 13:03pm


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