Focus On: Soccerball Nebula

November 30th, 2017 by Tavi Greiner

Kronberger 61 / Kn61 (aka the Soccerball) is a planetary nebula located some 13,000-LY away, in constellation Lyra, very near the border of Cygnus. Although it was imaged during a 1980s sky survey, our Focus On subject, Kn61, was not discovered until 2011, when amateur astronomer, Matthias Kronberger, noticed it during a collaborative search of the Digitized Sky Survey archives.

Kronberger’s discovery was confirmed by both Kitt Peak National and Gemini North observatories and even considered for target by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Kroneberger’s amateur-professional collaboration group, Deep Sky Hunters, have found more than 250 planetary nebula candidates, more than half of which were detected in the last three years.

When a low- or intermediate-mass main sequence star, like our Sun, nears the end of its lifetime, it evolves into a red-giant and then into a planetary nebula. While they may appear as graceful bubbles or delicate wings, planetary nebulae are actually in the throes of violent interactions, as extreme winds from a hot stellar core crash into an outer gaseous shell, pushing it outward to create the various colorful shapes that we see. Scientists estimate that our galaxy is home to nearly ten-thousand planetary nebulae, but less than two-thousand have been detected. Some of the most famous examples include the Helix, Cat’s Eye, and Hourglass.

Planetary nebulae are challenging targets for visual observers – they do require serious magnification power and some star-hopping experience – but their ethereal beauty and fascinating science are worth further investigation, even if only through images and articles. You can visit the Hubble Space Telescope website, here, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory website, here, to see more of these cool and crazy “space bubbles”.

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