Planet engulfment and the planetary nebula morphology mystery
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This thesis presents an investigation into the galactic population of planetary nebulae (PNe) whose progenitors have evolved through the engulfment of massive planets during the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) phase of their evolution. The objective of this research was to investigate the hypothesis that planet engulfment can aid in explaining the observed non-spherical planetary nebula (PN) population, as a complementary shaping mechanism to the binary hypothesis. This was performed by the design and development of a new research tool, simsplash (SIMulationS for the PLAnet Shaping Hypothesis), which was developed for the specific purpose of conducting, for the first time, a population synthesis of planet engulfment in planetary nebula progenitors. The first step in this investigation involved modelling the tidal evolution of planets orbiting PN progenitor stars to determine the importance of the adopted initial conditions and input physics in the stellar models and their effects on the orbital evolution of star-planet systems. The next step was to determine the probabilities of stars having and engulfing massive planets as a function of stellar mass and metallicity. This was achieved by combining the tidal evolution treatment with both the known exoplanet populations, as well as theoretical planet populations, and the occurrence rates of massive planets. Finally, taking into consideration the results from the analyses described above, a PN population synthesis was performed using the star formation history and metallicity evolution of the galaxy as well as varying forms of the initial mass function and planetary nebula formation constraints. The population of visible PNe in the present-day galaxy was calculated to consist of a total of 16,500+/-2,200 PNe, of which 240+/-20 PNe (1.5%) have evolved from the engulfment of a massive planet on the AGB and 3,300+/-200 PNe are the result of binary interactions (20%), translating to an expected non-spherical population of 21.5% of all PNe currently visible in the galaxy. The overall conclusion from this work is that while planet engulfment can explain a small fraction of the observed population of non-spherical PNe (7%), the hypothesis is not capable of resolving the mystery of the unexplained population of non-spherical planetary nebula morphologies. This conclusion adds support to the emerging view that not all low-to-intermediate mass stars can form visible PNe.
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