The messy death of a multiple star system and the resulting planetary nebula as observed by JWST

De Marco, Orsola; Akashi, Muhammad; Akras, Stavros; Alcolea, Javier y 65 autores mas (incluyendo Carmen Sánchez Contreras) (2022).

Nature Astronomy, 6, 1421. doi:10.1038/s41550-022-01845-2

Planetary nebulae, which are the envelopes ejected by red giant stars, provide us with a history of the late mass-loss phases of about 90% of the stars that were initially more massive than the Sun. Here we analyse images of the planetary nebula NGC 3132 captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) during its Early Launch Observations. We have discovered a structured and extended hydrogen halo surrounding a central ionised bubble, with spiral structures that were probably shaped by a low-mass companion orbiting the central star at approximately 40-60 AU. The images also reveal an excess of mid-infrared light in the central star, interpreted as a dusty disc, indicative of an interaction with another, closer companion. Including the previously known A-type visual companion, the progenitor of the planetary nebula NGC 3132 must have been at least a stellar quartet. The JWST images allow us to create a model of the illumination, ionisation, and hydrodynamics of the molecular halo, demonstrating the potential of JWST to probe complex stellar flows. In addition, new measurements of the A-type visual companion allow us to obtain the mass value of the progenitor of the central star with excellent precision: 2.86 ± 0.06 M⊙. These results open the way for future JWST observations of planetary nebulae, providing unique information on fundamental astrophysical processes, including wind collisions and binary star interactions, with implications for supernovae and gravitational wave systems.

Other publications