Sunday, October 24, 2010
Hubble took a deep look at NGC 6210, which is 6,500 light years away, in the constellation of Hercules
At the heart of NGC 6210 is a star slightly less massive than our sun that is in the last fitful stage of its life cycle. The star's death spasms have kicked off multiple shells of material with different degrees of symmetry, giving the NGC 6210 nebula its odd, bulbous shape.
The new Hubble image shows the inner region of the planetary nebula in unprecedented detail, where the central star is surrounded by a thin, bluish bubble that reveals a delicate filamentary structure. The glowing bubble appears to be intertwined with an asymmetric, reddish gas formation where holes, filaments and pillars are clearly visible.
Planetary nebulas are shells of gas and dust expelled by stars near the end of their lives. They are typically seen around stars comparable or smaller in size than the sun. Planetary nebulas are not related to planets as their name suggests, but instead earned the moniker because they resembled giant planets when viewed through early telescopes.
A star's life ends when it runs out of fuel for its thermonuclear engine. The estimated lifetime for a sun-like star is about 10 billion years.
What's left behind is a tiny, but very hot, star remnant known as a white dwarf. The white dwarf inside NGC 6210, which is visible in the center of the Hubble image, will cool down and fade very slowly.
According to stellar evolution theory, our own sun will experience a similar fate in approximately 5 billion years.
How long does the 'cooling down and fade slowly away" last? Is it 10,000 years or 1/2 a billion years?
What happens to the existing solar system around such a star, are the planets obliterated? Do they continue to orbit a common baricenter?
Do the planets gain substantial mass because of all the ejected stellar material that forms the nebula? Would a Jupiter size world in such a nebula gain enough mass to become a star out of the ashes to the prior star?