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The messy death of a multiple star system and the resulting planetary nebula as observed by JWST

An Author Correction to this article was published on 03 January 2023

This article has been updated

Abstract

Planetary nebulae—the ejected envelopes of red giant stars—provide us with a history of the last, mass-losing phases of 90% of stars initially more massive than the Sun. Here we analyse images of the planetary nebula NGC 3132 from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Early Release Observations. A structured, extended hydrogen halo surrounding an ionized central bubble is imprinted with spiral structures, probably shaped by a low-mass companion orbiting the central star at about 40–60 au. The images also reveal a mid-infrared excess at the central star, interpreted as a dusty disk, which is indicative of an interaction with another closer companion. Including the previously known A-type visual companion, the progenitor of the NGC 3132 planetary nebula must have been at least a stellar quartet. The JWST images allow us to generate a model of the illumination, ionization and hydrodynamics of the molecular halo, demonstrating the power of JWST to investigate complex stellar outflows. Furthermore, new measurements of the A-type visual companion allow us to derive the value for the mass of the progenitor of a central star with excellent precision: 2.86 ± 0.06 M. These results serve as pathfinders for future JWST observations of planetary nebulae, providing unique insight into fundamental astrophysical processes including colliding winds and binary star interactions, with implications for supernovae and gravitational-wave systems.

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Fig. 1: JWST images of the PN NGC 3132.
Fig. 2: The dusty central star of the PN NGC 3132.
Fig. 3: Morpho-kinematic reconstruction of the ionized cavity of PN NGC 3132.
Fig. 4: The physical interpretation of the flocculent H2 structure.
Fig. 5: Approximate illumination model of the H2 halo of PN NGC 3132.

Data availability

HST data are available at HST Legacy Archive (https://hla.stsci.edu). JWST data were obtained from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes at the Space Telescope Science Institute (https://archive.stsci.edu/). MUSE data were collected at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, Chile (ESO Programme 60.A-9100), presented in ref. 74, and are available at the ESO Archive (http://archive.eso.org). San Pedro de Martir data are available at http://kincatpn.astrosen.unam.mx.

Code availability

The code MOCASSIN is available at https://mocassin.nebulousresearch.org/. ZEUS3-D is available at the Laboratory for Computational Astrophysics84). The compiled version of Shape is available at http://www.astrosen.unam.mx/shape.

Change history

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the International Astronomical Union that oversees the work of Commission H3 on Planetary Nebulae. It is through the coordinating activity of this committee that this paper came together. S.A. acknowledges support under the grant 5077 financed by IAASARS/NOA. J.A. and V.B. acknowledge support from the EVENTs/Nebulae-Web research programme, Spanish AEI grant PID2019-105203GB-C21. I.A. acknowledges the support of CAPES, Brazil (Finance Code 001). E.D.B. acknowledges financial support from the Swedish National Space Agency. E.G.B. acknowledges NSF grants AST-1813298 and PHY-2020249. J.C. and E.P. acknowledge support from an NSERC Discovery Grant. G.G.-S. thanks M. L. Norman and the Laboratory for Computational Astrophysics for the use of ZEUS-3D. D.A.G.-H. and A.M. acknowledge support from the ACIISI, Gobierno de Canarias and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under grant with reference PROID2020010051 as well as from the State Research Agency (AEI) of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) under grant PID2020-115758GB-I00. J.G.-R. acknowledges support from Spanish AEI under Severo Ochoa Centres of Excellence Programme 2020-2023 (CEX2019-000920-S). J.G.-R. and V.G.-L. acknowledge support from ACIISI and ERDF under grant ProID2021010074. D.R.G. acknowledges the CNPq grant 313016/2020-8. M.A.G. acknowledges support of grant PGC2018-102184-B-I00 of the Ministerio de Educación, Innovación y Universidades cofunded with FEDER funds and from the State Agency for Research of the Spanish MCIU through the ‘Center of Excellence Severo Ochoa’ award to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (SEV-2017-0709). D.J. acknowledges support from the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union under grant number 2020-1-CZ01-KA203-078200. A.I.K. and Z.O. were supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D), through project number CE170100013. This research is/was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship. M.M. and R.W. acknowledge support from STFC Consolidated grant (2422911). C.M. acknowledges support from UNAM/DGAPA/PAPIIT under grant IN101220. S.S.M. acknowledges funding from UMiami, the South African National Research Foundation and the University of Cape Town VC2030 Future Leaders Award. J.N. acknowledges support from NSF grant AST-2009713. C.M.d.O. acknowledges funding from FAPESP through projects 2017/50277-0, 2019/11910-4 e 2019/26492-3 and CNPq, process number 309209/2019-6. J.H.K. and P.M.B. acknowledge support from NSF grant AST-2206033 and a NRAO Student Observing Support grant to Rochester Institute of Technology. M.O. was supported by JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research(C) (JP19K03914 and 22K03675). Q.A.P. acknowledges support from the HKSAR Research grants council. Vera C. Rubin Observatory is a Federal project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, with early construction funding received from private donations through the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded LSST (now Rubin Observatory) Project Office for construction was established as an operating centre under the management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC). A.J.R. was supported by the Australian Research Council through award number FT170100243. L.S. acknowledges support from PAPIIT UNAM grant IN110122. C.S.C.’s work is part of I+D+i project PID2019-105203GB-C22 funded by the Spanish MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033. M.S.-G. acknowledges support by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) through projects AxIN (grant AYA2016-78994-P) and EVENTs/Nebulae-Web (grant PID2019-105203GB-C21). R.S.’s contribution to the research described here was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. J.A.T. thanks the Marcos Moshisnky Fundation (Mexico) and UNAM PAPIIT project IA101622. E.V. acknowledges support from the ‘On the rocks II project’ funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades under grant PGC2018-101950-B-I00. A.A.Z. acknowledges support from STFC under grant ST/T000414/1. This research made use of Photutils, an Astropy package for detection and photometry of astronomical sources83, of the Spanish Virtual Observatory (https://svo.cab.inta-csic.es) project funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033/ through grant PID2020-112949GB-I00 and of the computing facilities available at the Laboratory of Computational Astrophysics of the Universidade Federal de Itajubá (LAC-UNIFEI, which is maintained with grants from CAPES, CNPq and FAPEMIG). Based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and obtained from the Hubble Legacy Archive, which is a collaboration between the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI/NASA), the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF/ESAC/ESA) and the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC/NRC/CSA). The JWST Early Release Observations and associated materials were developed, executed and compiled by the ERO production team: H. Braun, C. Blome, M. Brown, M. Carruthers, D. Coe, J. DePasquale, N. Espinoza, M. Garcia Marin, K.Gordon, A. Henry, L. Hustak, A. James, A. Jenkins, A. Koekemoer, S. LaMassa, D. Law, A. Lockwood, A. Moro-Martin, S. Mullally, A. Pagan, D. Player, K. Pontoppidan, C. Proffitt, C. Pulliam, L. Ramsay, S. Ravindranath, N. Reid, M. Robberto, E. Sabbi, L. Ubeda. The EROs were also made possible by the foundational efforts and support from the JWST instruments, STScI planning and scheduling, and Data Management teams. Finally, this work would not have been possible without the collaborative platforms Slack (slack.com) and Overleaf (overleaf.com).

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The following authors have contributed majorly to multiple aspects of the work that lead to this paper, the writing and the formatting of figures: O.D. (writing, structure, interpretation and synthesis), I.A. (H2 interpretation), B.B. (processing and interpreting images), G.G.-S. (2D hydro modelling), J.H.K. (writing, H2 measurements and interpretation), M.M. (imaging, photometry and H2 interpretation), B.M. (stellar photometry), S.S.M. (hydrodynamics of binaries), A.M.-I. (MUSE data analysis), H.M. (photoionization and morpho-kinematic models), P.M.B. (JWST image production), C.M. (photoionization modelling), R.S. (disk model and comparative interpretation), N.S. (hydro modelling and interpretation), L. Stanghellini (distances and abundance interpretation), W.S. (morpho-kinematic models), J.R.W. (spatially resolved spectroscopy), A.A.Z. (disk model, H2 measurements, writing and interpretation). The following authors have contributed key expertise to aspects of this paper: M.A. (hydrodynamic modelling and jet interpretation), J.A. (CO observations), S.A. (H2 interpretation), P.A. (space-resolved spectroscopy), E.G.B. (hydrodynamics), J.B. (HST and radio images of fast evolving PN), B. Bucciarelli (Gaia data), V.B. (radio observations, disk observation and interpretation, and comparative studies), Y.-H.C. (disk interpretation), J.C. (molecular formation), R.L.M.C. (final review and interpretation), D.A.G.-H. (IR dust/PAH features and abundances), J.G.-R. (photoionization modelling), V.G.-L. (photoionization modelling), D.R.G. (comparative analysis), M.A.G. (X-ray imaging), D.J. (close binaries), A.I.K. (final review and stellar nucleosynthesis), A.M. (nebular morphology and H2 interpretation), I.M. (photometry modelling), R.M. (X-ray and ultraviolet imaging), Z.O. (binary nucleosynthesis), M.O. (IR imaging), Q.A.P. (morphology), E.P. (nebular spectroscopy and PAHs), A.J.R. (binary populations), L. Sabin (abundances), C.S.C. (radio), M.S.-G. (nebular evolution), I.S. (star and star nebula association), A.K.S. (dust), J.A.T. (morphology), T.U. (nebular imaging), G.V.d.S. (IR observations), P.V. (AGB evolution model). The following authors contributed by commenting on some aspects of the analysis and manuscript: E.D.B., H.M.J.B., P.B., N.C., A.F., S.K., F.L., J.N., C.M.d.O., B.C.Q., G.Q.-L., M.R., E.V., W.V., R.W. and H.V.W.

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Correspondence to Orsola De Marco.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Astronomy thanks Eric Lagadec and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Text, Tables 1 and 2, Figs. 1–8 and References.

Supplementary Video 1

A fly-through video of the morpho-kinematic reconstruction of the ionized cavity of PN NGC 3132 shown in Fig. 3.

Supplementary Video 2

A fly-through video of the illumination model of the H2 halo of PN NGC 3132 shown in Fig. 5.

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De Marco, O., Akashi, M., Akras, S. et al. The messy death of a multiple star system and the resulting planetary nebula as observed by JWST. Nat Astron 6, 1421–1432 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01845-2

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