Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dying Stars Eat Comets For Their Last Supper

Snacking on comets (Image: HST/NASA)

From New Scientist:

WHEN the sun dies, it's not just Earth that will be doomed - the destruction will reach as far as the comets in the outer solar system. That's according to a new explanation of the behaviour of planetary nebulae - bubbles of gas sloughed off by dying stars (pictured).

There are two methods for calculating the abundance of elements in planetary nebulae: looking at light emitted when electrons and ionised atoms recombine, or looking at the energy emitted by atoms excited by collisions. Yet they yield very different results, a discrepancy that has baffled astronomers for decades.

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