Astronomers simulate the Cat’s Eye Nebula in 3D

In a recent study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical SocietyAn international team of researchers led by Stanford University has produced the first computer-generated 3D model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, which has revealed a symmetric pair of rings that surround the nebula’s outer crust. This study holds the potential to help us better understand the composition of the nebula and how it formed, as symmetrical rings provide evidence that they formed from a prior jet, giving strong confirmation of a binary star at the center of the nebula.

The Cat’s Eye Nebula, also known as NGC 6543, is located about 3,000 light-years from Earth and is one of the most stunning images of the night sky. Like most planetary nebulae, it was formed when the outer layer of gas was ejected by a dying star of solar mass. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) reveal a complex composition of arc-like filaments, knots, and spherical shells, which only add to its beauty.

The mysterious structure of a cat’s eye has fascinated scientists for years, as they were unable to figure out how traditional theories of planetary nebula formation could explain its complex shape. Research in recent years has shown that precursors can act as formation mechanisms in nebulae such as NGC 6543, but at the same time it lacks a detailed model to confirm these claims.

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That was until Ryan Claremont, a prospective Stanford undergraduate student, enthusiast in astronomy, and lead author of the study took the initiative to create a three-dimensional structure of a cat’s eye in hopes of explaining its unique shape that conventional astrophysics had had difficulty explaining. He enlisted the help of Dr. Nico Koning of the University of Calgary, who developed SHAPE, a 3D physical modeling program suitable for modeling planetary nebulae, and Dr. Wolfgang Stephen of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

In this study, the researchers used spectroscopic data from the San Pedro Martier National Observatory in Mexico to reconstruct the 3D structure of the nebula. Combining this data with images from HST, Clairmont was able to build a new 3D model of Cat’s Eye, which shows that high-density gas rings envelop the nebula’s outer envelope. The fact that the rings were almost perfectly symmetrical indicates that they were formed by a jet, a stream of high-density gas that blows out of the nebula in opposite directions.

The jets themselves exhibited what is known as anticipatory motion, such as the oscillating motion of rotating tops. As the plane progressed over time, the circle was an outline that eventually created the rings we now observe around the cat’s eye. However, the data shows that the loops are short-lived, which means that the pre-jet never finished a full 360-degree circle. Since the timescale of jet streams shows an important piece of information regarding the overall theory of planetary nebulae, the results point to strong evidence for a binary star in the center of a cat’s eye, given that only binary stars are responsible for a planetary nebula. advance jet.

As the direction and angle of the plane changes over time, it is likely responsible for the current features we observe inside the cat’s eye, including nodes and jets. Armed with their new 3D model, the research team was able to calculate the opening angle and pre-jet tilt based on the orientation of the rings.

“When I first saw the Cat’s Eye Nebula, I was amazed at its beautiful, perfectly symmetrical structure,” Claremont said. “I was even more surprised because their 3D structure was not fully understood. It has been very rewarding to be able to do astrophysics research myself that has had an impact in the field. Jets in planetary nebulae are relatively rare, so it is important to understand How it contributes to the formation of more complex systems like the cat’s eye. Ultimately, understanding how it formed provides insight into the ultimate fate of our sun, which will one day become a planetary nebula.”

As always, keep learning and keep researching!

Featured image: Side-by-side contrast of the 3D model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula produced by Ryan Claremont and his research team and the Cat’s Eye Nebula as photographed by Hubble. (Credit: Ryan Clairmont (left) and NASA/ESA/HEIC/Hubble Heritage Team (Space Telescope Science Institute/AURA) (right); License type: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

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