Sophisticated Simulation Reveals How The Rosette Nebula Got Its Distinctive Shape

The Rosette Nebula in all its glory. John Corban & the ESA/ESO/NASA Photoshop FITS Liberator

About 5,000 light-years away, there is a rose-shaped nebula known for its reddish-pink hue with a peculiar hole right in the middle of it. The Rosette Nebula also has massive bright blue stars at its center, creating an incredible spectacle for astronomers. Now, thanks to new research, we know how it came to have this distinctive shape.

As reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers from Leeds University and Keele University discovered that despite its voluminous appearance, the Rosette Nebula is actually a thin disk. This was possible thanks to a sophisticated computer simulation of how the winds from these central bright stars have shaped the red gas cloud.

“The massive stars that make up the Rosette Nebula’s central cluster are a few millions of years old and halfway through their lifecycle. For the length of time their stellar winds would have been flowing, you would expect a central cavity up to ten times bigger,” lead author Dr Christopher Wareing, from Leeds University, said in a statement.

“We simulated the stellar wind feedback and formation of the nebula in various molecular cloud models including a clumpy sphere, a thick filamentary disc and a thin disc, all created from the same low density initial atomic cloud. It was the thin disc that reproduced the physical appearance – cavity size, shape and magnetic field alignment — of the Nebula, at an age compatible with the central stars and their wind strengths.”

The simulation was only possible by employing a sophisticated supercomputer that was able to run the nine simulations of the different scenarios that could have created the nebula. It requires about a million CPU hours, which would take about 57 years on a standard desktop computer.

“To have a model that so accurately reproduces the physical appearance in line with the observational data, without setting out to do this, is rather extraordinary,” Wareing continued. “We were also fortunate to be able to apply data to our models from the ongoing Gaia survey, as a number of the bright stars in the Rosette Nebula are part of the survey. Applying this data to our models gave us new understanding of the roles individual stars play in the Rosette Nebula.”

Researchers are now hoping to apply these type of simulations to other nebulae in the galaxy.

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