Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hubble's rescue on NOVA

NOVA had an excellent episode this past week titled, Hubble's Amazing Rescue. It is amazing to see how much effort goes into preparing for such a mission - but then Hubble has played a phenomenal role in shaping contemporary astronomy and providing answers to some of humanity's fundamental questions. Watch the full episode here - I think it is quite thrilling. Of course, this provides me with an excuse to post one of the images (above) from the upgraded Hubble. This is NGC 6302 (or the Butterfly Nebula) and represents the end stage (planetary nebula) of a star like our Sun. The central star, which we can't see, is in the process of shedding most of its gaseous envelop and the image above represents a span of about 2 light years. You can read more about he image here. But back to the NOVA episode - here is a short promo for the show:

3 comments:

Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

Hmmm...to create a phenomenon of such a scale, I think the central star has to be much much bigger and hotter than our Sun.

Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

Hmmm...to create a phenomenon of such a scale, I think the central star has to be much much bigger and hotter than our Sun.

Salman Hameed said...

Yes, but still will end up in the state as the Sun. It is about 5 times more massive - so it is going through the planetary nebula phase and then turn into a white dwarf - the same last stage for our Sun. If it was more than 10 times as massive, then we would have expected this star to explode a supernova before leaving a neutron star core.

As far as the size is concerned, the structure is around 2 light years across. That is about half the distance from our Sun to the Centauri system. Sun's planetary nebula may not end up being that big - but half that size is not so crazy. But we don't know what Sun's planetary nebula is going to look like. It largely depends on how mass is ejected from the star - and so far, astronomers don't have a unified theory in this regard. In fact, Hubble has captured a phenomenal variety of planetary nebula - irrespective of their initial masses. I guess, humans will have to watch it from a colony in another star system :)