X-rays from planetary nebulae: Unveiling wind collisions and binarity

Rodolfo Montez

Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works in October 2013. Physical copy available through RIT's The Wallace Library at: QB855.5 .M66 2010


Planetary nebulae (PNe), the ionized, ejected envelopes of low- to intermediate-mass stars, are thought to be shaped by a nascent fast wind from the spent core (a future white dwarf) that collides with and sweeps up previously ejected material (red and asymptotic branch giant winds). This collision can generate an X-ray emitting "hot bubble" that fills the swept-up cavity. Circumstellar material in a dense torus or disk, likely due to an interacting binary in the PN nucleus, is widely believed to collimate the winds that shape non-spherical PNe. Hence, PNe offer excellent opportunities to study astrophysical shocks and binary interactions. In my thesis, I address these topics via a comprehensive analysis of new and archival (pointed and serendipitous) X-ray observations performed by Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray satellite observatories. This analysis yields new information on the X-ray characteristics (detections and non-detections) of over 50 PNe (~40% of which were detected). Based on spatial/spectral analysis of a dozen diffuse X-ray emitting PNe, I confirm that hot bubble temperatures are generally much lower than predicted by simple shock models given measured central star fast wind velocities. Comparison of the X-ray emission and central star properties of the sample PNe with the predictions of heat conduction models indicates that some hot bubbles are regulated by heat conduction, while others appear to require alternative temperature-regulating mechanisms. From new detections of point-like hard X-ray emission from the binary star nuclei of LoTr5, DS1, and HFG1, I demonstrate that the X-ray emission most likely arises from rejuvenated coronae around the spun-up companions in these systems. These results place constraints on putative spun-up binary companions within other PNe in which point-like central sources have gone undetected by XMM and/or Chandra. I conclude with suggestions as to the most promising directions for future X-ray observations of PNe.