Using the Kepler Spacecraft to Identify Binary Stars in Planetary Nebulae

Primary Submission Contact

Michael Battipaglia

Faculty Sponsor

Todd Hillwig

Faculty Sponsor Email Address



Arts and Sciences


Astronomy and Physics

Document Type

Poster Presentation


Fall 10-27-2017


Planetary Nebulae are understood to be a typical phase in a star’s life cycle, but there is still much to be learned concerning these impressive structures. It is understood that they are the result of a star shedding its outer layers which are consequently ionized by the remnant core. However, many of the shapes we observe in these nebulae cannot be explained by the intrinsic properties of stars. Attention is drawn to binary and multiple star systems as a plausible explanation for these esoteric structures. As about half of the stars in our galaxy are gravitationally bound to at least one other star, it makes sense that most planetary nebulae would contain two stars rather than just one19. Binary stars can physically create the structures observed and account for the strange properties some planetary nebulae exhibit. This research uses data from the Kepler spacecraft consisting of 186 confirmed, likely, and possible planetary nebulae candidates. By analyzing the light curves from these targets we can detect if there is any variability coming from the central star (the remaining core) and determine whether or not the targets contain a binary system. These light curves reveal information on the orbital period of binary systems, the type of binary star system present in the planetary nebula, and can even reveal the type of stars involved. With large datasets like that used here, we can determine statistically the fraction of multiple-star planetary nebulae, which is direct evidence for whether or not binary systems contribute to the shapes of these nebulae.

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