Astronomers Discover Rings with Near-Perfect Symmetry in the Cat’s Eye Nebula
Researchers have constructed the first computer-generated three-dimensional model of the Cat’s Eye Nebula, revealing a pair of symmetric rings around the nebula’s outer shell. The rings’ symmetry suggests they were formed by a precessing jet originating from the nebula’s central star. This provides strong evidence for a binary star at the center of the nebula. The study was recently published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and was led by Ryan Clairmont.
A planetary nebula forms when a dying star ejects its outer layer of gas, creating a colorful, shell-like structure distinctive to planetary nebulae. NGC 6543, or the Cat’s Eye Nebula, is one of the most complex planetary nebulae known. It is just over 3,000 light-years away from Earth, and can be seen in the constellation Draco. The Cat’s Eye Nebula has also been seen in great detail by the
The nebula’s mysterious structure confounded astrophysicists because it could not be explained by previously accepted theories for planetary nebula formation. More recent research showed that precessing jets were potential shaping mechanisms in complex planetary nebulae such as NGC 6543, but lacked a detailed model.
Clairmont, an astronomy enthusiast, decided to try to establish the detailed 3D structure of the Cat’s Eye to find out more about the potential mechanism that gave it its intricate shape. To do this, he sought out the help of Dr. Wolfgang Steffen of The National Autonomous University of Mexico and Nico Koning from the University of Calgary, who developed SHAPE, 3D astrophysical modeling software particularly suitable for planetary nebulae.
The researchers used spectral data from the San Pedro Martir National Observatory in Mexico to reconstruct the nebula’s three-dimensional structure’s three-dimensional structure. These provide detailed information on the internal motion of material in the nebula. Together with these data and images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Clairmont constructed a novel 3D model, establishing that rings of high-density…
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