Planetary Nebula PN G158.5+00.7 and Supernova Remnant SNR G160.9+02.6

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A star (like our sun) is a gigantic sphere of mostly gaseous hydrogen and helium, large enough that its self-gravity creates enough temperature and pressure in the core to fuse hydrogen into helium. This nuclear fusion is the source of the energy and light that the star emits, but eventually all stars (and our sun) will run out of fuel, and what happens next is entirely dependent on the star's initial mass. Ironically, small less massive stars can last for trillions of years, while large, massive stars live "fast and furious lives," burning through their fuel supply relatively quickly, and may last only a few million years.

Stars that have an intial mass between 0.8 and 8 x the sun's will first evolve into red giants when their core hydrogen fuel is used up. The end of central hydrogen fusion causes the core to contract, while the star's outer envelope expands and cools, shifting the light to cooler red wavelengths. As the core contracts, its pressure and temperature rises until fusion of helium, now the core's major constituent, becomes possible. The core is now fusing helium into carbon and oxygen, while a shell surrounding the core continues to fuse hydrogen into helium, adding more fuel to the core. Eventually core helum is exhausted, and stars of this mass range reach the end of the line. Central fusion ceases, causing the core to contract while the star's outer layers cool and expand, and the star sheds these outer layers forming a "Planetary nebula (PN)" (funny name, nothing to do with planets). The carbon-oxygen core that is left behind forms a white dwarf that slowly cools over billions of years, but produces no new energy from nuclear reactions. The white dwarf emits large amounts of ultraviolet photons, which excite and/or ionize the ejected gas shell, causing the gas to emit visible light photons as the electrons recombine with ionized atoms and spontaneously cascade down to lower energy levels. The glowing gas shells, which we call Planetary Nebula (PN), do not last very long (in astronomical terms at least), and after 10,000 - 100,000 years the shells dissipate into the interstellar medium, providing material for new star formation.

Stars with initial masses greater than 8x the sun's, however, have a much more interesting end-of-life story. After exhausting the hydrogen fuel in their core, they too expand into red giants, while their cores contract and heat up, eventually transitioning to fusing helium into carbon and oxygen in the core, while a shell of hydrogen surrounding the core continues to create helium and feed the core. After the helium is used up, these massive stars have enough gravity to achieve higher temperatures and pressures in their core and successively fuse heavier elements still, eventually creating a nickel-iron core surrounded by shells of successively lighter elements. But iron is the end of the line, as fusing heavier elements requires the addition of energy, rather than liberating energy. Once central fusion ends for good, the core rapidly collapses (on the order of seconds!), heating up and then rebounding in a tremendous explosion that releases an amount of energy rivaling that of an entire galaxy--this explosion is called a Supernova. The remaining core collapses into either a neutron star, or if massive enough, into a black hole. Meanwhile, the outer envelope of the star is driven outward by the explosion at extremely high velocity, forming a (theoretically) spherical nebula of expanding gas and dust, creating shock fronts and heating both the expanding gas and the interstellar medium (ISM) into which it is expanding. The expanding shell is rich in metals and heavier elements, seeding the ISM with material for the next generation of stars. This expanding shell of gas and dust is a "Supernova Remnant (SNR)," eventually becoming light years across and glowing in the characteristic wavelenghts of emission nebula that can be photographed.


The Fate of Most Stars in a Single Image

Supernova RemnantPlanetary Nebula
SNR G160.9+02.6 (Sharpless 2-221 / HB 9)PN G158.5+00.7 (Sharpless 2-216)
distance: ~ 1100 pc (3586 light-years)distance: ~120 pc (391 light-years)

Optics:Takahashi FSQ-106
Camera:ASI6200MM Pro cooled CMOS camera
Exposure info:40-50 x 600 sec Ha and OIII per frame / 2-frame mosaic (~ 31 hours total)
Filters used:Astronomik H-alpha, OIII
date:February-March 2022
processing:Pixinsight-->Photoshop-->Topaz DeNoise AI-->Lightroom

Using software (Starnet) to remove the stars from the image allows a better appreciation for the fainter sections of the nebulosity:



DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am not an astrophysicst, but simply an amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. I am trying to learn some astrophysics and add some science to my hobby of astrophotography. My explanations above are intended as a brief introduction to what I have been learning, and to attempt to give some context to my efforts.


1. Carroll and Ostilie, "An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, second edition." Cambridge University Press, 2017