Astronomers from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space observatory have spotted strange laser emissions coming out from the massive Ant Nebula, also known as Menzel 3. Ant Nebula is located between 3,000 and 6,000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Norm.
The infrared images showed a burst of colorful light spectra produced by an intense energy emanating from the Ant Nebula’s core. The sighting suggests that there might be a double star system hiding within the cluster.
Scientists said that the laser emission phenomenon might be connected to the death of a star. It occurs when a star similar to the sun, which is near to the end of its life, emits powerful lasers before dying.
Dr. Isabel Aleman, lead author of a paper said that the sensitivity and wide wavelength range of the Herschel observatory helped them detect an extremely rare type of emission called hydrogen recombination laser emission, which is only produced in a narrow range of physical conditions. He added that the information will also help them reveal the nebula’s structure and physical conditions.
The new observations prove the fact that the density of the laser-emitting gas surrounding the Ant Nebula is almost around 10,000 times higher than that of the gas seen in typical planetary nebulas. The latest finding suggests that the Ant Nebula is actually home to two stars since a companion star would help capture the dense gas ejected from the dying white dwarf star.
Study co-author Toshiya Ueta, who is also the principal investigator of the Herschel Planetary Nebula Survey project, said that such laser emission has only been identified in a handful of objects before. He added that this was a remarkable discovery that they did not even anticipate.
The study findings have been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.