Surfing in Sagittarius isn't for the faint-hearted
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: July 25, 2001
Hubble observations have revealed huge waves sculpted in the Red Spider Nebula. This warm and windy planetary nebula harbours one of the hottest stars in the Universe and its powerful stellar winds generate waves 100 billion kilometres high - intimidating for even the bravest space surfers.
For many years astronomers from Europe and the USA have successfully used Hubble to study the variety of forms and shapes of planetary nebulae. The intricate pattern of waves of the Red Spider is an excellent example of the level of detail revealed by Hubble's sharp eyes. Another example is the `S'-shaped symmetry of the lobes in the image - the lobes opposite each other appear similar. This is believed to be due to the presence of a companion to the hot central star (none of which are visible in the image).
An ideal place for potential space surfers?
The waves are generated by supersonic shocks formed when the local gas is compressed and heated in front of the rapidly expanding lobes. Atoms caught in the shocks radiate the visible light seen in this image. The process appears to have been underway long enough to make the edges of the lobe walls look as if they have started to fracture into wave crests.
The Red Spider nebula is located about 3000 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius. The Hubble images were obtained on 12 September 1997 with the WPFC2 instrument (Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2) in five different filters. Here, light from sulphur ions is displayed in red (exposure time 900 s), nitrogen ions in orange (1200 s) and ionised hydrogen (H-alpha) in green (1240 s), while atomic oxygen is in light blue (1200 s) and ionised oxygen in dark blue (1000 s).
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international co-operation between ESA and NASA.
Members of the group of scientists involved in these observations are: Garrelt Mellema & Vincent Icke (Leiden University, the Netherlands) and Bruce Balick (University of Washington, USA).
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