A high-mass planetary nebula in a Galactic open cluster


Planetary nebulae are the ionized ejected envelopes surrounding the remnant cores of dying stars. Theory predicts that main-sequence stars of one to about eight solar masses may eventually form planetary nebulae. Until now, this has not been confirmed at the higher end of the mass range. Here we report that the planetary nebula BMP J1613-5406 is associated with the Galactic star cluster NGC 6067. Stars evolving off the main sequence of this cluster have a mass of around five solar masses. Our confidence in the association between the planetary nebula and the cluster comes from their tightly consistent radial velocities in a sightline with a steep velocity–distance gradient, common distances, and reddening and location of the planetary nebula within the cluster boundary. This is an unprecedented example of a planetary nebula whose progenitor star mass approaches the theoretical lower limit of core-collapse supernova formation. This finding provides observational evidence supporting theoretical predictions that stars of five solar masses and more can form planetary nebulae.

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Fig. 1: 30 arcmin × 30 arcmin images of NGC6067 and BMP1613-5406.
Fig. 2: The summed, red 3.9-m AAT SPIRAL Integral Field Unit one-dimensional spectrum.
Fig. 3: A VPHAS + combined u + g + r multi-band ‘RGB’ colour image centred on the planetary nebula’s central star candidate.
Fig. 4: A current plot from cluster white dwarfs for the latest IFMR estimates and semi-empirical ‘PARSEC’ fit8 together with our estimated point for BMP1613-5406 plotted as a red circle.

Data availability

Our XSHOOTER data can be accessed from the ESO Science Archive Spectral Data Products (http://archive.eso.org/wdb/wdb/adp/phase3_spectral/form). The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

SHS data can be accessed from: http://www-wfau.roe.ac.uk/sss/halpha/.

VPHAS + data can be found at: http://www.vphasplus.org/.


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Part of this work is from data obtained from the ESO Science Archive Facility under request number 336270. Some reported observations were obtained with the SALT. Q.A.P. and V.F. thank the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for travel support for the SALT observations and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council for General Research Fund (GRF) research support under grants 17326116 and 17300417. V.F. thanks HKU for her PhD scholarship. We thank D. Frew for input to the XSHOOTER proposal and for early project work (we have been unable to get a reply from him to agree to the co-authorship that he deserves).

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V.F. undertook the data reduction and analysis for the planetary nebula and cluster and led the writing of the paper. Q.A.P. co-discovered the planetary nebula, identified it as a possible cluster member, obtained much of the follow-up data on a variety of telescopes, including SALT, and co-wrote the paper. A.A.Z. provided scientific input and checked the paper. L.C. helped to facilitate SALT observations via Director’s Discretionary Time. H.B. helped with the VPHAS+ photometry.

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Correspondence to Q. A. Parker.

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Fragkou, V., Parker, Q.A., Zijlstra, A.A. et al. A high-mass planetary nebula in a Galactic open cluster. Nat Astron 3, 851–857 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0796-x

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