Thursday, 5 July 2018

IC4634: not going quietly

I got the question why the heck I'm so passionate about these tiny planetary nebulae. Indeed, most people only see a blurry little dot and what could possibly be interesting about that? Well, most people simply don't look very well. Even though usually bright and easily visible, it takes some time for your eyes to adjust to the image and to discover all possible details. Next time you're looking though a telescope, try staring at this little dot for at least two full minutes, let your eyes move around it, relax, take it all in. Suddenly there will be a point at which you can see more... structures... filaments... 

IC4634 is still a young planetary nebula, hardly a few thousand years old, and unfortunately it lies a respectable 7,500 light-years away. So yes, it looks tiny. This is a real pity because this is a truly spectacular little bugger. The dying central star (which I had difficulty making out) is not ejecting its atmosphere in one big blow, but in puffs whilst it keeps spinning rapidly. The result is that the gaseous shells form expanding waves in different directions. Difficult to see, I know, but it was definitely there. I also had the impression that I could see a faint halo around it, which may be material the star already ejected when it was in the last, unstable phase of its life and which now slowly begins to glow under the tremendous radiation from the remaining stellar core.


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