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NASA’s SOFIA Captures Images of the Planetary Nebula M2-9


Image Credit: NASA / DLR / USRA / DSI / FORCAST team / M. Werner, J. Rho

Image Credit: NASA / DLR / USRA / DSI / FORCAST team / M. Werner, J. Rho

Researchers using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured infrared images of the last exhalations of a dying sun-like star.

The object observed by SOFIA, planetary nebula Minkowski 2-9, or M2-9 for short, is seen in this three-color composite image. The SOFIA observations were made at the mid-infrared wavelengths of 20, 24, and 37 microns. The 37-micron wavelength band detects the strongest emissions from the nebula and is impossible to observe from ground-based telescopes.

Objects such as M2-9 are called planetary nebulae due to a mistake made by early astronomers who discovered these objects while sweeping the sky with small telescopes. Many of these nebulae have the color, shape and size of Uranus and Neptune, so they were dubbed planetary nebulae. The name persists despite the fact that these nebulae are now known to be distant clouds of material, far beyond our solar system, that are shed by stars about the size of our sun undergoing upheavals during their final life stages.

Although the M2-9 nebular material is flowing out from a spherical star, it is extended in one dimension, appearing as a cylinder or hourglass. Astronomers hypothesize that planetary nebulae with such shapes are produced by opposing flows of high-speed material caused by a disk of material around the dying star at the center of the nebula. SOFIA’s observations of M2-9 were designed to study the outflow in detail with the goal of better understanding this stellar life cycle stage that is important in our galaxy’s evolution.

Full Story: http://www.sofia.usra.edu/News/news_2012/03_29_12/index.html