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New Cosmic Mystery: Butterfly Nebulae Align

his mosaic shows a selection of stunning images of bipolar planetary nebulae taken by Hubble. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; NGC 6302: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team; NGC 6881: ESA/Hubble & NASA; NGC 5189: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA);M2-9: Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
This mosaic shows a selection of stunning images of butterfly-shaped planetary nebulae taken by Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; NGC 6302: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team; NGC 6881: ESA/Hubble & NASA; NGC 5189: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA);M2-9: Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands)

Astronomers have stumbled on a cosmic mystery surrounding some of the most beautiful objects in our galaxy. 

New deep-sky images of the Milky Way’s central core reveal picturesque butterfly-shaped gas clouds left behind by dying stars called bipolar planetary nebulae. And all appear to be mysteriously aligned with one another.

Planetary nebulae form during the final life stages of sun-like stars when their fuel runs out. In some cases, jets of hi-speed gas from the dying star sculpt the expanding gas bubbles into a symmetrical hourglass-shape. This type of stellar remnant is referred to as a butterfly nebula.

Using both the Hubble Space Telescope and European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope (NNT), researchers surveyed more than a hundred planetary nebulae in the Milky Way’s central core region, and found that bipolar-shaped nebulae display a surprising alignment with each other.

“This really is a surprising find and, if it holds true, a very important one,” said study co-author Bryan Rees, astronomer at the University of Manchester, in a press statement.

“Many of these ghostly butterflies appear to have their long axes aligned along the plane of our galaxy,” he added.

For Rees and his team, the particularly perplexing part is that for all these butterfly nebulae to exhibit this kind of alignment with each other—despite their individual, unique histories and properties—their progenitor stars would have to have all been rotating perpendicular to the clouds of gas and dust that gave birth to them.

“The alignment we’re seeing for these bipolar nebulae indicates something bizarre about star systems within the central bulge,” explained Rees.

One hypothesis for this surprising alignment is that it may be directly tied to the origin of the strong magnetic field emitted by the Milky Way’s bulge. Very little is known about how this magnetic field formed and evolved over time.  As such, this quirky arrangement of planetary nebulae may very well help unlock some as yet unknown history of our own galaxy.

 

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Comments

  1. Timothy
    colorado
    November 19, 2013, 1:08 pm

    wow. epic fail. its all wrong.

  2. Jayvin Alonzo
    September 15, 2013, 5:21 am

    This must be the result of the so called “Seesaw Effect.”. This effect occurs in this situation. The magnetic field from the bulge of the milky way and the multiple magnetic fields of these butterfly nebulae must be interlocked in a somewhat balanced way. At one point, one of the butterfly nebulae has a weakened magnetic field causing them to unalign. If the nebula has strengthend its magnetic field, the alignment regains. Fascinating. Usually only about 5-10 butterfly nebulae align. In this case almost hundreds are in a cosmic seesaw. A never seen phenomena called “The Chaining Interlock Effect”.

  3. Nephthys Bastet
    SW
    September 9, 2013, 10:00 pm

    This is another fantastic find by Hubble, which has already given us so much information. These are stunning images from the region closest to the center of our galaxy.

    It just makes me more curious about the Universe.

  4. Mick D
    New York City
    September 9, 2013, 8:53 pm

    Gravity?

  5. April LeBlanc
    Massachusetts
    September 6, 2013, 9:04 pm

    reflection*

  6. April LeBlanc
    Massachusetts
    September 6, 2013, 9:03 pm

    I love learning about space and I think about it a lot.
    Scientists and people know of the big bang theory and I think it’s obvious that it was just one huge massive mother star that exploded. All of the other stars exploding, spewing out particles which created galaxies, planets, more stars, etc is just a reflected of the the mother star/big bang. Particles were spewed out, etc. I think there are also billions of other “mother stars” that have “big banged” creating multi-verses. I think it’s time we move on from “universe”.

  7. AJEEV RANA
    Indian
    September 6, 2013, 1:28 pm

    Hi..
    I like your photos

  8. Laith
    UK ,Manchester University
    September 6, 2013, 12:51 pm

    “The alignment we’re seeing for these bipolar nebulae indicates something bizarre about star systems within the central bulge,” No No … I can explain that issue as a God’s new sign which command steeply that our universe is going to end, I am not joking .

  9. Medo
    egypt
    September 6, 2013, 8:49 am

    yep, but its not a new mystery, because before almost 1500 years the Holy Quran of Muslims had already informed about that phenomenon, besides others many facts that scientists figured out and still figuring out, i let you know the rest by yourselves because its huge so check that guys. thanQ

  10. Nev. Aurousseau
    Tomakin NSW
    September 5, 2013, 8:32 pm

    Taken by the Hubble Scope no doubt.