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 March 10, 2008

Finally, the 'Planet' in Planetary Nebulae?

Astronomers at the University of Rochester, home to one of the world’s largest groups of planetary nebulae specialists, have announced that low-mass stars and possibly even super-Jupiter-sized planets may be responsible for creating some of the most breathtaking objects in the sky.

The news is ironic because the name "planetary" nebula has always been a misnomer. When these objects were discovered 300 years ago, astronomers couldn't tell what they were and named them for their resemblance to the planet Uranus. But as early as the mid-19th century, astronomers realized these objects are really great clouds of dust emitted by dying stars.

Now, Rochester researchers have found that planets or low-mass stars orbiting these aged stars may indeed be pivotal to the creation of the nebulae's fantastic appearance.

» read complete press release