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Session 97 - Planetary Nebulae.
Display session, Thursday, January 16
Recent HST observations have revealed heretofore unseen fine scale structure in the Helix Nebula. Thousands of well resolved neutral dark cores have been detected in extinction against the background emission of the nebula. These Cometary Knots (CK) have a remarkably uniform appearance with photoionized cusps and tails trailing away from the cusps on almost radial lines. The total mass of the CK is similar to the total mass of the ionized diffuse gas in the ring which means that they represent an important component of the nebula.
We discuss the origin and future of the CK in the Helix. It has been suggested that the CK result from Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities arising at the ionization front of the nebula (Capriotti 1973, 1996). Our hydrodynamical simulations indicate that indeed Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities could lead to filamentary structures within planetary nebulae. The substructure of these fingers differs, however, from the observations in important ways. The observed CK therefore must have a different origin.
The knots might represent local density fluctuations which remained behind and were compressed as the main ionization front advanced into the neutral material. Another formation scenario is a thin shell instability which results from the interaction of the nebula with a fast stellar wind. Although no stellar wind features have been detected so far, the brightness distribution of the ionized cusps of the knots indicates that this gas is in pressure equilibrium with a high-temperature surrounding gas which could be generated by a shocked stellar wind. If such a wind would have high velocities and low densities it could fall beneath the threshold for spectroscopic detection although it could be important for understanding the formation and structure of the CK. Detailed high-resolution numerical simulations which take into account a fast wind phase as well as the time variation of the Central Star's UV photon flux are presented.
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