ALMA OBSERVATIONS OF THE COLDEST PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE: THE BOOMERANG NEBULA
Journal article, 2013
The Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the universe, and an extreme member of the class of pre-planetary nebulae, objects which represent a short-lived transitional phase between the asymptotic giant branch and planetary nebula evolutionary stages. Previous single-dish CO (J = 1-0) observations (with a 45 '' beam) showed that the high-speed outflow in this object has cooled to a temperature significantly below the temperature of the cosmic background radiation. Here we report the first observations of the Boomerang Nebula with ALMA in the CO J = 2-1 and J = 1-0 lines to resolve the structure of this ultra-cold nebula. We find a central hourglass-shaped nebula surrounded by a patchy, but roughly round, cold high-velocity outflow. We compare the ALMA data with visible-light images obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope and confirm that the limb-brightened bipolar lobes seen in these data represent hollow cavities with dense walls of molecular gas and dust producing both the molecular-emission-line and scattered-light structures seen at millimeter and visible wavelengths. The large diffuse biconical shape of the nebula seen in the visible wavelength range is likely due to preferential illumination of the cold, high-velocity outflow. We find a compact source of millimeter-wave continuum in the nebular waist-these data, together with sensitive upper limits on the radio continuum using observations with ATCA, indicate the presence of a substantial mass of very large (millimeter-sized) grains in the waist of the nebula. Another unanticipated result is the detection of CO emission regions beyond the ultra-cold region which indicate the re-warming of the cold gas, most likely due to photoelectric grain heating.