Oral Presentation Astronomical Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting including HWWS 2013

Planetary nebulae: Windows into the soul of stellar Death (#83)

Quentin A Parker 1
  1. Macquarie University/AAO, Sydney, NSW, Australia

The study of Planetary Nebulae (PNe) is crucial to understand late stage stellar evolution and the chemical evolution of our entire Galaxy. The ionised shell exhibits strong emission lines that are excellent laboratories for plasma physics. PNe are visible to great distances where their strong lines permit determination of the size, expansion velocity and age of the PN, so probing the physics and timescales of stellar mass loss. We can use them to derive luminosity, temperature and mass of their central stars, and the chemical composition of the ejected gas. Their radial velocities trace a galaxy’s kinematic properties and test whether the galaxy contains a substantial amount of dark matter while their ensemble brightness distribution in coherent systems provide a powerful cosmological standard candle. Their complex shapes provide clues to their formation, evolution, mass-loss processes, and the shaping role that may be played by magnetic fields, binary central or even massive planets. As the central star fades to a WD and the nebula expands, the integrated flux, surface brightness and radius change in predictable ways. PNe are thus powerful astrophysical tools, providing a unique window into the soul of late stage stellar evolution. In this talk I will present some specific examples of the current on-going research at MQ that seeks to exploit the above science drivers with a particular emphasis on new multi-wavelength capabilities.