UW News

December 15, 1997

UW astronomer to show spectacular pictures of distant stars in the final stages of death

What do the “Siamese squid,” the “double Hubble,” the “blinking planetary” and the “Saturn nebula” have in common?

All are distant, dying stars, whose images have been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. And all will be described this Wednesday by University of Washington astronomy professor Bruce Balick, who, with his colleagues has captured some of the most remarkable portraits yet seen through the lens of the orbiting telescope.

In a press conference at NASA in Washington D.C. on Wednesday (10 p.m. PST), Balick will describe spectacular images that provide insights into the final stages of stellar evolution, as well as a glimpse into the distant final days of the solar system. Four of the seven new images being released were taken by Balick and his colleagues.

The photographs show the material ejected by geriatric stars once similar to the Sun. One image, of M2-9, dubbed the “Siamese squid”, is a striking example of a planetary nebula shaped like a butterfly. Hubble 5 is a double-lobed nebula known as the “double bubble.” GGC 6826 has an eye-like appearance and is known as the “blinking planetary.” NGC 7009 has a bright central star at the center of a dark cavity bounded by a rim of dense blue and red gas. It is known as the “Saturn nebula.”

Balick notes that 95 percent of all the stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, will become planetary nebulae, including the Sun. These dying bodies are formed when a red giant star ejects its outer layers as clouds of luminescent gas, revealing a dense white dwarf star at the core.

The researcher notes that the term “planetary nebulae” is a misnomer, since the objects are stars, not planets, and no planets are visible within them. Says Balick: “We might reasonably call the 10,000 galactic planetary nebulae flaring ornaments that adorn our galaxy, much like the twinkling lights on a Christmas tree.”

### Balick can be reached at 543-7683, or balick@astro.washington.edu
Following the press conference, Balick will be available for interviews between 1:10 and 2:30 p.m. PST over the NASA Select television network. Television stations wishing to interview Balick should contact Diana Corridon at Goddard Space Flight Center at (301) 286-0041.

Previews of the conference can be seen on the World Wide Web at http://oposite.stsci.edu/~levay/pr/pn/photo.html or at http://www.astro.washington.ed u/balick/WFPC2