By Nana Dadzie Ghansah
A group of serious amateur astronomers and astrophotographers are discovering hitherto unknown nebulae. Tops among them are a German graphic designer called Marcel Drechsler and a Frenchman named Xavier Strottner. By himself, Drechsler has found 37 new deep space objects (DSOs). Six of them have been confirmed as planetary nebulae. The two have discovered 104 objects working together, 16 of which have been confirmed as planetary nebulae.
A recent discovery that may tie into a cosmic event observed by Chinese astronomers in Beijing in 1065 (close to a thousand years ago!) may be their best yet.
Like most things in the universe, stars come to life, grow, and then die. Unlike us humans, their lifespan is measured in thousands of years.
A star is formed as gravity pulls the dust and gases in space together. Through fusion, hydrogen ions join to produce helium. This generates energy which exists as an opposite force to the gravitational pull. Thus you have power from fusion causing and exerting an outward force, while the gravity at the center exerts an inward one.
The amount of fusion going on and the energy produced is decided by the size of the star. Thus we have stars the size of the Sun (a yellow dwarf), more massive ones called Red Supergiants, and the smallest stars of all, the red dwarfs.
When the star burns through all its hydrogen, the energy production stops. Two things can happen at this stage.
With smaller stars, the star’s outer shell is ejected and forms an envelope of dust and clouds around the core. The core, which is not producing any more energy but is still quite hot (about 180,000 deg F or 100,000 deg C), becomes…