We report the results of a Hubble Space Telescope6 "snapshot" survey aimed at finding resolved binary companions of the central stars of Galactic planetary nebulae (PNe). Using the the Wide Field and Planetary Camera and Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, we searched the fields of 113 PNe for stars whose close proximity to the central star suggests a physical association. In all, we find 10 binary nuclei that are very likely to be physically associated and another six that are possible binary associations. By correcting for interstellar extinction and placing the central stars' companions on the main sequence (or, in one case, on the white dwarf cooling curve), we derive distances to the objects, and thereby significantly increase the number of PNe with reliable distances. Comparison of our derived distances with those obtained from various statistical methods shows that all of the latter have systematically overestimated the distances, by factors ranging up to a factor of 2 or more. We show that this error is most likely due to the fact that the properties of our PNe with binary nuclei are systematically different from those of PNe used heretofore to calibrate statistical methods. Specifically, our PNe tend to have lower surface brightnesses at the same physical radius than the traditional calibration objects. This difference may arise from a selection effect: the PNe in our survey are typically nearby, old nebulae, whereas most of the objects that calibrate statistical techniques are low-latitude, high surface brightness, and more distant nebulae. As a result, the statistical methods that seem to work well with samples of distant PNe, for example, those in the Galactic bulge or external galaxies, may not be applicable to the more diverse population of local PNe. Our distance determinations could be improved with better knowledge of the metallicities of the individual nebulae and central stars, measurements of proper motions and radial velocities for additional candidate companions, and deeper HST images of several of our new binary nuclei.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science