UWS astronomers help solve more of the Universe's mysteries

Date: 18/08/2009

A discovery of unexpected phenomena in neighbouring galaxies by a team at the University of Western Sydney may also help to explain a long-standing mystery in astronomy.

Associate Professor Miroslav Filipovic, from the UWS School of Computing and Mathematics, has lead a team of Australian and American scientists who have found a new class of object which they call 'super planetary nebulae'.

Planetary nebulae are formed from the gas and dust ejected as stars die.

The new super planetary nebulae (SPNe) are thought to be the very brief period after a large star - up to eight times the mass of our own sun - dies.

It's the first time this moment in a large star's death has been documented.

The new objects were discovered by accident in our nearest galactic neighbours, the Magellanic Clouds, during surveying with radio telescopes.

"We were searching for remnants of an explosion from much more massive stars - 8 times the mass of our sun - objects called supernova remnants (SNRs)," says Associate Professor Filipovic.

"I thought SNRs were some of the most fascinating objects in the sky until the super planetary nebulae popped up."

Associate Professor FilipoviŠ's team found 15 unusual objects in the Clouds matched the location of well known planetary nebulae observed by optical telescopes. The newly uncovered super planetary nebulae have very active radio signals.

"This came as a shock to us as no one expected to detect these objects at radio wavelengths and with the present generation of radio telescopes," says Associate Professor Filipovic.

"We have been holding up our findings for three years until we were 100 percent sure that they were indeed planetary nebulae."

The research was published in the prestigious international journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Super planetary nebulae may also help to explain a 50 year old mystery.

"A particular range of giant stars called, asymptotic giant branch stars, were predicted to have planetary nebulae, but until now these have never been observed," says Associate Professor Filipovic.

The mass of the giant stars' planetary nebulae was theoretically possible but until now never proven.

"Now there is one less mystery in the Universe but still so much to discover."

Associate Professor Filipovic anticipates the next generation of radio telescopes, especially the Square Kilometre Array, will provide greater detail of super planetary nebulae and shed more light on the hidden Universe.

A video interview with Associate Professor Filipovic can be found at The Sauce web site: http://tiny.cc/u693v

The abstract for the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society paper can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/mt3jmc



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