An international team of astronomers have discovered an unusual laser emission that suggests the presence of a double star system hidden at the heart of the “spectacular” Ant Nebula.
The extremely rare phenomenon is connected to the death of a star and was discovered in observations made by European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space observatory.
When low- to middleweight stars like our Sun approach the end of their lives they eventually become dense, white dwarf stars. In the process, they cast off their outer layers of gas and dust into space, creating a kaleidoscope of intricate patterns known as a planetary nebula. Our Sun is expected to one day form such a planetary nebula.
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. The Ant Nebula earns its nickname from the twin lobes that resemble the head and body of an ant.
The recent Herschel observations have shown that the dramatic demise of the central star in the core of the Ant Nebula is even more theatrical than implied by its colourful appearance in visible images – such as those taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.