Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The Frugal Cosmic Ant

Skinny dusty disc found in the heart of the Ant Nebula

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer and its unique ability to see small details, astronomers have uncovered a flat, nearly edge-on disc of silicates in the heart of the magnificent Ant Nebula. The disc seems, however, too 'skinny' to explain how the nebula got its intriguing ant-like shape.

But how can a spherical star produce such complex structures? The answer, many astronomers think, requires understanding of the discs surrounding the central star. By their nature, these discs bear witness to the phenomena that lead to the asymmetrical structures of planetary nebulae.

"The challenge is to actually detect these discs," explains team leader Olivier Chesneau, from the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, France. "Most astronomical instruments do not have a sharp enough view to find, let alone study them. The Very Large Telescope Interferometer however, with its exceptionally high spatial resolution, is a powerful disc-hunter."

The disc of the Ant Nebula, which cannot be detected with a single 8.2-m VLT Unit Telescope, was uncovered in the interferometric mode where two 8.2-m Unit Telescopes were used to combine light, through the MID-infrared Interferometric instrument (MIDI). The observations reveal a flat, nearly edge-on disc whose major axis is perpendicular to the axis of the bipolar lobes. The disc extends from about 9 times the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun (9 Astronomical Units or 9 AU) to more than 500 AU. At the distance of the Ant Nebula, this corresponds to having detected structures that subtend an angle of only 6 milli-arcseconds. This is similar to distinguishing a two-storey building on the Moon.

The dust mass stored in the disc appears to be only one hundred thousandth the mass of the Sun and is a hundred times smaller than the mass found in the bipolar lobes.

"We must therefore conclude that the disc is too light to have a significant impact on the outflowing material and cannot explain the shape of the Ant Nebula", says Chesneau. "Instead, it looks more like this disc is some remnant of the material expelled by the star."

The observations also provide unquestionable evidence that the disc is primarily composed of amorphous silicate. "This," says Chesneau, "most likely indicates that the disc is young, perhaps as young as the planetary nebula itself."

The astronomers favour the possibility that the large quantity of material in the lobes was propelled by several large-scale events, triggered with the help of a cool stellar companion. The solution of the mystery thus resides in the core of the system, and requires better characterisation of the hot central star and its putative companion, currently hidden from our view by the dusty disc.

Henri Boffin | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht 'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region
16.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Fraunhofer HHI have developed a novel single-polarization Kramers-Kronig receiver scheme
16.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>