Hubble noticed a sharp dimming of the youngest planetary nebula

Researchers from NASA have noticed a dramatic dimming of the youngest nebula they know. In 20-30 years, it will be barely visible.

Astronomers rarely notice the rapidly fading veil of gas around an aging star. Archival data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope indicate that the Hen 3-1357 Nebula, also called the Ray Nebula, has been rapidly dying out over the past two decades. Such rapid changes are rare in planetary nebulae.

Images taken by Hubble in 2016 show a nebula that has dramatically faded and changed in shape. The bright, blue, fluorescent tendrils and filaments of gas toward the nebula’s center have disappeared, and the wavy edges that gave the nebula its name are almost invisible. The nebula is now harder to spot.

“It’s very, very dramatic and weird. What we are seeing is the evolution of the nebula in real-time. Over the next few years, we will see such changes in the nebula. However, we have not seen this before such a phenomenon so clearly.”

Martin A. Guerrero of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Granada, Spain

Researchers have discovered unprecedented changes in the light emitted by incandescent nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen that explodes as a dying star in the center of the nebula. In particular, from 1996 to 2016, the brightness of oxygen emission decreased by almost a thousand times.

According to scientists, this process indicates changes in the fundamental structure of the nebula. Moreover, its dimensions are changing in record time. Astronomers emphasize that it will hardly be visible in space in 20-30 years. Perhaps it responds to the processes taking place with its central star SAO 244567, which is expanding due to a drop in temperature.

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