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Mz 3: Planetary Nebula
Fast Winds from a Dying Star
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Name: Mz 3, Menzel 3, Ant Nebula
Description: White Dwarfs & Planetary Nebulas
Position (J2000): RA 16h 17m 12.60s | Dec -51º 59' 08.00"
Constellation: Norma
Observation Dates: April 1, 2004
Observation Time:
11 hours
Color Code: Energy (X-ray: Blue; Optical/IR: Red & Green)
Instrument: ACIS
Distance: About 3,000 light years
Image Credit: NASA, CXC
Release Date: May 10, 2006

Related Links:
        N01-05        N06-05
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This composite image shows part of the unfolding drama of the last stages of the evolution of sun-like stars. Dynamic elongated clouds envelop bubbles of multimillion degree gas produced by high-velocity winds from dying stars. Chandra's X-ray data is shown in blue, while green and red are optical and infrared data from Hubble.

Planetary nebulas - so called because some of them resemble a planet when viewed through a small telescope - are produced in the late stages of a sun-like star's life. After several billion years of stable existence (the sun is 4.5 billion years old and will not enter this phase for about 5 billion more years) a normal star will expand enormously to become a bloated red giant. Over a period of a few hundred thousand years, much of the star's mass is expelled at a relatively slow speed of about 50,000 miles per hour.

This mass loss creates a more or less spherical cloud around the star and eventually uncovers the star's blazing hot core. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the core heats the circumstellar gas to ten thousand degrees, and the velocity of the gas flowing away from the star jumps to about a million miles per hour.

This high speed wind appears to be concentrated into opposing supersonic funnels, and produces the elongated shapes in the early development of planetary nebulas. Shock waves generated by the collision of the high-speed gas with the surrounding cloud create the hot bubbles observed by Chandra. The origin of the funnel-shaped winds is not understood. It may be related to strong, twisted magnetic fields near the hot stellar core.