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Friday, August 31, 2012

Planetary Nebula Abell 39

Planetary Nebula Abell 39
Click on the image for full resolution (1.0 MB)

Abell 39 is a planetary nebula in the constellation of Hercules. It is estimated to be about 6,800 light-years from earth and 4,600 light-years above the Galactic plane. It is almost perfectly spherical and also one of the largest known spheres with a radius of about 2.5 light-years. The thickness of the spherical shell is about a third of a light-year. Its central star is slightly west of center by about 2" or 0.1 light-years. This offset does not appear to be due to interaction with the interstellar medium, but instead, it is hypothesized that a small asymmetric mass ejection has accelerated the central star. The mass of the central star is estimated to be about 0.61 M☉ with the material in the planetary nebula comprising an additional 0.6 M☉. This planetary nebula has a nearly uniform spherical shell. However, the eastern limb of the nebula is 50% more luminous than the western limb. Additionally, irregularities in the surface brightness are seen across the face of the shell. The source of the east-west asymmetry is not known but it could be related to the offset of the central star. The bright rim of the planetary nebula has an average thickness of about 10″.1 or about 0.34 light-years. There is a faint halo that extends about 18″ beyond the bright rim giving a complete diameter of around 190″ under the assumption that this emission is uniform around the planetary nebula. This picture was taken at the WIYN Observatory's 3.5-m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, AZ, in 1997 through a blue-green filter that isolates the light emitted by oxygen atoms in the nebula at a wavelength of 500.7 nanometers.
The full resolution image weighs 1.0 MB, so please be (a little) patient when downloading!
Credit: WIYN/NOAO/NSF
Image enhancement: Jean-Baptiste Faure

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