Researchers have created the first computer-generated three-dimensional model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, revealing a pair of symmetrical rings that surround the nebula’s outer shell. The symmetry of the rings suggests that they were formed by an eastward jet, providing strong evidence for a binary star at the center of the nebula. The study was led by Ryan Claremont, who recently completed secondary school in the United States, and is published in Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society,
a planet nebula Formed when a dying solar-mass star expels its outer layer of gas, creating a colorful, shell-like structure for these objects. The Cat’s Eye Nebula, also known as NGC 6543, is one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. It is only 3,000 light-years away from Earth, and can be seen in the Draco constellation. The Cats Eye Nebula has also been imaged in high resolution by the Hubble Space Telescope, revealing an intricate structure of knots, globular spheres and arc-like filaments.
The mysterious structure of the nebula confused astrophysicists because it could not be explained by previously accepted theories for planetary nebula formation. More recent research has shown that precursor jets were possible shaping mechanisms in complex planetary nebulae such as NGC 6543, but a detailed model was lacking.
Astronomy enthusiast Ryan Claremont decided to try to establish a detailed 3D structure of Cat’s Eye to learn more about the possible mechanisms that gave it its complex shape. To do this, they enlisted the help of Dr. Wolfgang Stefan of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Nico Koning from the University of Calgary, who developed SHAPE, 3D astrophysical modeling software specifically suited for planetary nebulae.
To reconstruct the nebula’s three-dimensional structure, the researchers used spectral data From the San Pedro Martir National Observatory in Mexico. These provide detailed information about the internal motion of the material in the nebula. With these data and images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Claremont produced a novel 3D model, establishing that rings of high-density gas wrapped around Cat’s Eye’s outer shell. Surprisingly, the rings are almost perfectly symmetrical to each other, suggesting that they were created by a jet—a stream of high-density gas that was ejected. opposite directions from the central star of the nebula.
The jet exhibited precession, similar to the wobble motion of a spinning top. As the jet staggered, or propelled, it outlined a circle, forming the rings around Cat’s Eye. However, the data indicates that the rings are only partial, meaning that the preceding jet never completed a full 360-degree rotation, and the jet’s emergence was only a short-lived event. The period of the outflow is an important piece of information for the theory of planetary nebulae. Since only binary stars can power an eastward jet in a planetary nebula, the team’s findings are strong evidence that such a system exists at the center of Cat’s Eye.
As the angle and direction of the jet changed over time, this probably created all of the features seen in Cat’s Eye, including jets and knots. Using a three-dimensional model, the researchers were able to calculate the inclination and opening angle of the precessing jet based on the orientation of the rings.
Ryan Claremont, the paper’s lead author and now a prospective graduate at Stanford University, says, “When I first saw the Cat’s Eye Nebula, I was amazed by its beautiful, perfectly symmetrical structure. What surprised me even more was its 3D The structure was not fully understood.”
He continued, “It was very rewarding for me to be able to do astrophysics research that really has implications in the field. Precessional jets are relatively rare in planetary nebulae, so it’s important to understand how they give shape to more complex ones.” How do systems like Cat’s Eye? Ultimately, understanding how they form will provide insight into the eventual fate of our Sun, which will one day itself become a planetary nebula.”
Ryan Claremont et al, Morphokinematic Modeling of Point-symmetric Cat’s Eye, NGC 6543: Ring-like Remnants of a Precessional Jet, Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stac2375
Royal Astronomical Society
Citation: Cat’s Eye Nebula as seen in 3D (2022, September 21) Retrieved on September 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-cat-eye-nebula-3d.html
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