Ionization structure of multiple-shell planetary nebulae: I. NGC 2438

S. Öttl, S. Kimeswenger, A. A. Zijlstra

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Context. In recent times an increasing number of extended haloes and multiple shells around planetary nebulae have been discovered. These faint extensions to the main nebula trace the mass-loss history of the star, modified by the subsequent evolution of the nebula. Integrated models predict that some haloes may be recombining, and thus are not in ionization equilibrium. But parameters such as the ionization state and thus the contiguous excitation process are only poorly known. The haloes are very extended, but faint in surface brightness-103 times lower than the main nebula. The observational limits call for an extremely well studied main nebula, to model the processes in the shells and haloes of one object. NGC 2438 is a perfect candidate to explore the physical characteristics of the halo. Aims. The aim is to derive a complete data set of the main nebula. This allows us to derive the physical conditions from photoionization models, such as temperature, density and ionization, and clumping. These models are used to derive whether the halo is in ionization equilibrium. Methods. Long-slit spectroscopic data at various positions in the nebula were obtained at the ESO 3.6 m and the SAAO 1.9 m telescope. These data were supplemented by imaging data from the HST archive and from the ESO 3.6 m telescope and by archival VLA observations. The use of diagnostic diagrams draws limits for physical properties in the models. The photoionization code CLOUDY was used to model the nebular properties and to derive a more accurate distance and ionized mass. Results. We derive an accurate extinction EB-V = 0.16, and distance of 1.9 ± 0.2 kpc. This locates the nebula behind the nearby open cluster M46 and rules out membership. The low-excitation species are found to be dominated by clumps. The emission line ratios show no evidence for shocks. The filling factor increases with radius in the nebula. The electron densities in the main nebula are ~250 cm -3, dropping to ~10-30 in the shell. We find the shell in ionization equilibrium: a significant amount of UV radiation infiltrates the inner nebula. Thus the shell still seems to be ionized. The spatially resolved CLOUDY model supports the hypothesis that photoionization is the dominant process in this nebula, far out into the shell. Previous models predicted that the shell would be recombining, but this is not confirmed by the data. We note that these models used a smaller distance, and therefore different input parameters, than derived by us. © 2014 ESO.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberA87
    JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Planetary nebulae: general
    • Planetary nebulae: individual: NGC 2438
    • Stars: AGB and post-AGB


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