Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 2000 September 10 - White Dwarf Stars Cool
Explanation: Diminutive by stellar standards, white dwarf stars are also intensely hot ... but they are cooling. No longer do their interior nuclear fires burn, so they will continue to cool until they fade away. This Hubble Space Telescope image covers a small region near the centre of a globular cluster known as M4. Here, researchers have discovered a large concentration of white dwarf stars (circled above). This was expected - low mass stars, including the Sun, are believed to evolve to the white dwarf stage. Studying how these stars cool could lead to a better understanding of their ages, of the age of their parent globular cluster, and even the age of our universe.
APOD: 2000 July 30 - NGC 2440: Cocoon of a New White Dwarf
Explanation: Like a butterfly, a white dwarf star begins its life by casting off a cocoon that enclosed its former self. In this analogy, however, the Sun would be a caterpillar and the ejected shell of gas would become the prettiest of all! The above cocoon, the planetary nebula designated NGC 2440, contains one of the hottest white dwarf stars known. The white dwarf can be seen as the bright dot near the photo's centre. Our Sun will eventually become a "white dwarf butterfly", but not for another 5 billion years. The above false colour image and was post-processed by Forrest Hamilton.
APOD: 2005 June 12 - M2-9: Wings of a Butterfly Nebula
Explanation: Are stars better appreciated for their art after they die? Actually, stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. In the case of low-mass stars like our Sun and M2-9 pictured above, the stars transform themselves from normal stars to white dwarfs by casting off their outer gaseous envelopes. The expended gas frequently forms an impressive display called a planetary nebula that fades gradually over thousand of years. M2-9, a butterfly planetary nebula 2100 light-years away shown in representative colours, has wings that tell a strange but incomplete tale. In the centre, two stars orbit inside a gaseous disk 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The expelled envelope of the dying star breaks out from the disk creating the bipolar appearance. Much remains unknown about the physical processes that cause planetary nebulae.
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