planetary nebulae

by Theodore R. Frimet

binary, trinary, or a black hole

In my day to day job, when not backfilling a brick and mortar store, I am on the road. And, yes, for me, driving from location to location is a very pleasant experience. I get to ride, sometimes, for many hours. During the last long haul I decided to put a few of my favorite books, from the library, onto my iPhone. I do on occasion, listen to ‘books on tape”. So it may not come as a complete surprise, that I have meandered thru the aural equivalent of taking the road, least traveled. Please do not mistake me for Robert Frost. I do not pine for poetry’s sake (1).

Unfortunately, as is with most human beings, the spoken word is about the least efficient way to communicate information. Clearly, me speaking to you, thru this essay, is about as effective as if I were in your presence. Too long. Too boring. And often times not completely accurate. We are creatures that learn most effectively, if immersed into a world of the visual, if only to be accompanied by the audio spectrum. Perhaps, I have waved my arms, danced by jig, and done as much chalk tossing, euphemistically speaking, to overcome the odds of my non-traditional methods of conversational writing. Drat. Too long. BOOO-RING.

Oh, a Ring! Ah yes. The audio books. Panic in Level 4 (Richard Preston). The 4% Universe (Richard Panek). Eruption (Steve Olson), and Gravity’s Engines. I didn’t make it to Eruption, and absolutely recommend Panic in Level 4. However it was about two, or so hours into Gravity’s Engines, by Caleb Scharf, when I heard an alarm go off. Go ahead, say it. It was a “ring”.

I am not going to replay hours of Scharf. Not going to happen. So I encourage you to either buy the book, or download the audio, by way of Overdrive, the app. What I recall hearing was that the well of a black hole, is pumping out relativistic electrons, and streaming outward. They carve into the void, double jets of powerful radiation. And I made a mental link. It quickly became cannon fodder for me, to consider that radiating jets, from massively dense objects can form a scaffold on which ionizing gas may accrete. And my visual construct had me seeing two vast expanding conic sections. The cones had their genesis at a white dwarf, while their nebulous gaseous outreach formed dumb-bells. Yup. M27. Dumbbell Nebula. That is a real thing. Two iotas stood in my way. Nebulae are gaseous globes of ions. And they don’t require a dance partner.

Both are poor assumptions. Planetary nebulas come in dozens of shapes and sizes. I further challenged myself to look for what was not main stream. That is, Binary stars are the key to understand planetary nebulae.

I accessed YouTube, last night. Here is the link.

I will not go any further than to state that few Planetary Nebula that you see, in the night sky, were formed by one Sol. When that is the case, that is, old Solo Mio, then the gas would have vaporized much more quickly, than you or I could have lived to see, by means of a telescopic experience. Nebulae, such as these, are so rare, that they do not last more than a thousand years. Hence, there are White Dwarfs a plenty – having dissipated off their gas clouds long before you, or I could make the trek, by means of Amateur Astronomy, in our lifetimes. However, binary star systems are the new orange. Is that that bananas are the new yellow? Or am I just plain bananas? Or is that plain Vanilla? I digress. There are two of everything. Almost.

Hopefully by now you have bypassed my pablum, and have struggled thru the audio of the IAC presentation, in the above link. What I have to contribute, hopefully not to the disappointment of Dr. Henri M. J. Boffin (ESO, Garching), is that the sibling of a White Dwarf, in the presence of a Planetary Nebula, is a gentle black hole. And upon the scaffolding of outbound radiation, I present to you, the myriad structure of ionized, and visible gas.

I wasn’t too certain of what I had heard. It was helping me to conjure up ideas of light, red-shifting form the ultra-violet to our visible spectrum.

There was a chapter that buzzed by, that discoursed relativistic velocities of electrons and its relationship to the wavelength of light.

I can’t seem to find web references, for citations.

Mostly, I have taught outreach that ultra-violet light, stemming from a white dwarf, at the center of the ring nebula, interacts with the nebula and re-radiates into the visual spectrum.

Hence, I teach the public that light that cannot be seen, from the Ring Nebula, can be seen, due to an effect of re-radiation.

When I can remember, I use a small ultra-violet flashlight source, and a string of uranium glass beads, to illustrate this re-radiation.

Now, I am considering a different approach – relativistic electrons or “local” fast moving space-time – and I am now stuck without any citations.

It would become my next essay, for my Astronomy Club – however I wanted to lean away from meta-physics, and move myself towards an information essay, with solid citations.

Take this, of course, with a grain of salt. (All the best ions are salts). That if you paid attention, during Dr. Boffin’s lecture, you would have made a quick study of the light curves of these Planetary Nebulae. And that there were periodicities noted in the data. Also, giving the devil his due, we note that there were elemental studies done, on the light spectrum, yielding exacting clues as to the nebulous neighbor of our binary star systems.

Perhaps where there is no light, there is only a hole. Look closely and find periods, with no complementary light spectrum, sans the ever present White Dwarf. Pretty binary, isn’t it, my dear Watson? That is correct, my dear Amateur. Holmes, never said this was going to be Elementary.


(1) Frost, R. (2019). The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. [online] Poetry Foundation. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jun. 2019].

This entry was posted in Mid Summer 2019, Sidereal Times and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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