The Planetary Nebulae Can Make Mandala-like Waves: Astronomers Explain

Mandalas of Stardust

The planetary nebulae, also known as the last gasps of dying stars, are just some clouds of stellar material discharged into space as a red giant star is dying.

The dying star shucks its outer layers, brightened from within by the hot, revealed core. The clouds are complex, fantastic, yet odd, with mandala-like waves, unusual discs, even bilobed jets akin to wings. 

Recently, through hydrodynamical simulations and a detailed collection of observations, astronomers have found how planetary nebulae might get their shapes. Here is what you need to know.

Planetary Nebulae Features and Other Intriguing Details

According to new research, the planetary nebulae get their shapes through gravitational interactions with binary star companions and giant planets like Jupiter that survive their host stars’ tragic deaths. 

Red giants are known as the old age of a certain kind of star, approximately 8 times the mass of the Sun. It’s how the Sun will pass away, blowing up to overwhelm Venus, Mercury, and maybe our planet, before its heart crumples into a tiny white dwarf shining brightly with residual heat. 

So, how these stars collapsed is very intriguing to astronomers. Leen Decin, an astronomer at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and his team discovered that an advanced database of observational data on the winds of the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars had not been compiled. And they started to create one.

“The lack of such detailed observational data caused us to initially assume that the stellar winds have an overall spherical geometry, much like the stars they surround,” explained Carl Gottlieb, an astronomer of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The Team’s Work and Findings

The team used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and observed a sample of AGB stars. They spotted a range of structures, including shells, clumps, doughnut shapes, rotating discs, arcs, spirals, and bipolar forms. At first, the team believed there was something near the star that could cause all these structures. 

But when the astronomers modeled a companion’s effect on those outflows, they discovered that every type of structure they observed could be made by the presence of a secondary object. The distance from the star, the mass of that object, and the eccentricity of its orbit could also play a role in the diversity of the structures created in the stellar wind. 

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