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September 4, 2013 09:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2013-37

Some Planetary Nebulae Have Bizarre Alignment to Our Galaxy

September 4, 2013: Hubble astronomers have found an unexpected surprise while surveying more than 100 planetary nebulae in the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy. Those nebulae that are butterfly-shaped or hourglass-shaped tend to be mysteriously aligned such that their rotation axis is perpendicular to the plane of our galaxy.

Planetary nebulae are the expanding gaseous shrouds encircling dying stars. A subset of this population has bipolar outflows that align to the star's rotation axis. Such nebulae formed in different places and have different characteristics and so it is a puzzle why they should always point on the same sky direction, like bowling pins set up in an alley.

Researchers suggest that there is something bizarre about star systems within the central hub of our galaxy. They would all have to be rotating perpendicular to the interstellar clouds from which they formed. At present, the best guess is that the alignment is caused by strong magnetic fields that were present when the galactic bulge formed billions of years ago.

For more information, visit http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1316/


Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Zijlstra (The University of Manchester)

Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington (Hubble's Hidden Treasures Competition)