Skip to main content

Astronomers near capturing star’s moment of death

Image used with permission by copyright holder

An amateur astronomer recently discovered what has been confirmed to be one of the best looks yet at a planetary nubula, the last, gassy breath of a dying star. The nebula, named Kronenberger 61 after the enthusiast who discovered it, will offer insights into the future and death of our own sun.

Matthias Kronenberger, part of an astronomy club called the Deep Sky Hunters, first discovered the phenomenon, which was then confirmed by a team led by Dr. Orsola De Marco of Australia’s Macquarie University. The team used the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to hone in on Kn 61 and have added it to the observation list for NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Scientists don’t agree on whether or not nebulae, which are giant space clouds of gas and dust, are the end result of every star or if they only occur under specific circumstances. De Marco said in a statement that the big puffs are the source of plenty of argument within the astronomy community.

“Planetary nebulae present a profound mystery,” De Marco said. “Some recent theories suggest that planetary nebulae form only in close binary or even planetary systems. On the other hand, the conventional textbook explanation is that most stars, even solo stars like our sun, will meet this fate. That might just be too simple.”

Kepler was launched in 2009 to search for and investigate Earth-like planets around stars. The telescope has already found 1,200 possibilities so far, but with 150,000 stars in the region it’s currently searching, Kepler’s schedule is very tight. That makes amateurs like Kronenberger extremely important in the search for new places of interest, and in fact astronomers with the Kepler program have given coordinates and data to amateurs in an effort to enlist their help in searching the Kepler study area.

Update: Image via the Gemini Observatory.

Editors' Recommendations

Derek Mead
Former Digital Trends Contributor
This vampire star is feeding on its companion to create a ‘super-outburst’
An artist's impression of a vampire system.

Astronomers have spotted a "vampire star," feeding on one of its brethren in a dwarf nova. A nova is an event marked by the sudden appearance of a bight, seemingly new star, which fades over a period of weeks or months. Traditional novae consist of a white dwarf feeding on a companion star, typically a main sequence, subgiant, or red giant star. As the white dwarf absorbs matter from its companion, gas begins to fall onto the white dwarf's surface to create an atmosphere which is heated and begins to glow when fusion occurs.

What is unusual about this particular dwarf nova is that the white dwarf is feeding on one of its own, a brown dwarf. "The rare event we found was a super-outburst from the dwarf nova, which can be thought of as a vampire star system," lead researcher Ryan Ridden-Harper of the Australian National University said in a statement. He and his colleagues discovered the event when pouring over data from the archive of the decommissioned Kepler Space Telescope.

Read more
Impending collision of Milky Way with other galaxy is already creating new stars
A map of the Milky Way.

A newfound cluster of young stars (blue star) sits on the periphery of the Milky Way. These stars probably formed from material originating from neighboring dwarf galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. D. Nidever; NASA

We know that in around 2 billion years' time, our galaxy will collide with a nearby satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This collision will be so dramatic that it will awaken the black hole at the heart of our galaxy, causing it to gorge on nearby matter and balloon to ten times its current size. The LMC is a fairly small galaxy, but it is rich in dark matter so it has a large mass, causing the collision between the two galaxies to be catastrophic.

Read more
LIGO observatory sees its 2nd-ever neutron star collision — and it was massive
Artist's rendition of a binary neutron star merger.

Artist's rendition of a binary neutron star merger. National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), famous for the first detection of gravitational waves, has made another exciting observation. It has observed a pair of neutron stars smashing into each other, for only the second time in its history.

Read more