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Science in Action: If you detect something, do something

AstroDad makes potential discovery of new planetary nebula

(ROCKWALL, TX – Sept. 25, 2017) On Friday night, 22 September, 2017 at my observatory in Oklahoma, I imaged the Pisces galaxy cluster with my deep sky galaxy setup. This equipment consists of an 11-inch Celestron XLT schmidt-cassegrain compound telescope and a Quantum Scientific QSI-583WSG cooled CCD astronomy camera using specially made astronomical filters. In order to capture the incredibly faint galaxies a quarter billion light years away, I executed a series of 10-minute exposures (17 using the clear filter) and three each for red, green and blue filters to create the color channels. The total exposure, or integration time for the image was 4 hours 40 minutes.

While processing the image I noted a very strange object (SDSS J012320.31+332050.0, Obj ID 1237678806920265808) that looked extremely blue and out of place among the galaxies. The object does not appear on any charts and is not annotated anywhere in any atlases. After conducting an exhaustive search I did find the object based on its location in the sky using the latest release of Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data (release 8). The object was classified as a galaxy with no further scientific follow- up in any spectral band. I believe this object has been misidentified as a galaxy and it is actually the nearby stellar remnant of an ancient burned out star that we call a planetary nebula.

Here is the image annotated with the strange object. Also note that there are countless galaxies in this field. Anything you see that isn’t a sharp, pinpoint star….that’s a galaxy.

Here is the Sloan Data Release 8 image of  Obj ID 1237678806920265808

If you’re following this so far, then hang on, because it’s about to get really good. Here comes the part where I can prove what I think. As a side note, this is a really faint object. At 20th magnitude it’s 100-million times dimmer than the bright star Alpha Centauri.

The above assertion is based on the following, redshift for the SDSS object is an order of magnitude lower than the rest of the surrounding galaxies, although still too far to be a planetary nebula in our galaxy. The blue appearance of this object is in striking contrast to the surrounding galaxies whose light is shifted toward the more red part of the spectrum after having traveled significant difference.

As soon as life permits, I will conduct a follow-up observing campaign to determine the veracity of my assertions regarding SDSS J012320.31+332050.0, Obj ID 1237678806920265808. Thanks to SCIENCE and my equipment, this can be done from my driveway. Using the very same telescope/camera, I will image the same region, except this time with an Oxygen-iii narrowband filter than only allows doubly-ionized oxygen produced photons onto the sensor. Also known as an emission line, this line is in the blue-green portion of the light spectrum and corresponds, thankfully for my hypothesis, to the dominant emission from planetary nebulae. So if I get any O-iii signal back from SDSS J012320.31+332050.0, Obj ID 237678806920265808, then it’s definitely NOT a galaxy as the algorithm in the SDSS decided and we will have discovered a new planetary nebula in our night sky. Of course, I’m fully willing to accept a dark screen with no signal when that first image appears because that evidence would lead me to conclude that indeed this is a galaxy. Science is evidence-based. We respect the evidence and are thankful for the wisdom to understand the difference between evidence and opinion. My hypothesis today is that this is not a galaxy. However until the evidence, possibly from multiple lines of reasoning adds up, I cannot conclusively assert my hypothesis as fact. Stay tuned.

Clear Skies and Keep Looking Up!

Our Universe Today is a column written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor, Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, of Rockwall. Images provided by Max Corneau.


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