Friday, May 28, 2021

The importance of the Egg nebula

The Egg Nebula is a protoplanetary nebula 3000 light-years away from Earth, visible in the constellation of the Swan.

The particular configuration of the Egg Nebula has allowed astronomers to obtain important information about this particular class of planetary nebulae in their earliest stages of life.

In the case of the Egg Nebula, as you can see from the image, the central white dwarf star is obscured by bands of dust located in front of it. This has therefore made it much easier to study the concentric gas shells surrounding it.

The different colors of the image (red, blue, green) do not indicate a real difference in colors, but instead indicate the different polarization states of the light that comes to us from the nebula. The image was obtained by the Hubble Telescope with different filters that each time made only polarized light pass at a certain angle. White light in the central region of the nebula (in the immediate vicinity of the star) is non-polarized light.

The study of different states of polarization has allowed astronomers to derive important information about the material that constitutes the nebula. For example, a large amount of carbon has been identified, produced in the last stages of nuclear burning inside the core of the star and then expelled into space once the star, entered the final stages of its life, has lost its superficial layers to becoming a white dwarf.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, W. Sparks, R. Sahai.

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