Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, astronomers have discovered a disc of silicate dust at the heart of the Ant Nebula. The disc seems, however, too lightweight to explain how the nebula got its unique ant-like shape, with three nested pairs of bipolar lobes.
The image on the right shows a previously taken image of the Ant Nebula. The image on the left shows a model of the dusty disc produced with the more sensitive MID-infrared Interferometric instrument. The Ant Nebula is located about 5 000 light-years away, and at that distance, seeing this disk is comparable to sighting a two-story building on the moon.
The dust mass stored in the disc appears to be only one hundred thousandth the mass of the Sun, and is a hundred times smaller than the mass found in the bipolar lobes. Astronomers are inclined to think that the large quantity of material in the lobes was caused by several large-scale events, triggered by a cool stellar companion.
Solving the mystery will require more investigation of the hot central star and its probable companion, hidden from our view by the dusty disc.
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)