Planetary nebulae, which are produced in the late stages of
solar-type stars evolution, have traditionally been considered by
specialists as testbeds for theories of stellar evolution and
laboratories to study the physics of warm nebular gases.
The interest of the astronomical community in planetary nebulae has
considerably increased in recent years, after it has been
demonstrated that planetary nebulae can be used as standard candles
to measure the distances of galaxies, as test particles to measure
the masses of galactic haloes or to reveal the presence of stars
A growing number of astronomers, previously working in different
fields (e.g. stellar atmospheres or dynamics of galaxies) now become
involved in research programmes based on planetary nebulae.
Instruments have been specially designed for the study of
extragalactic planetary nebulae, like the planetary nebulae
spectrograph. Observational techniques (e.g. crowded-field 3D
spectrophotometry) have been improved to study planetary nebulae in
Recently, it has been suggested that planetary nebulae may have to do
with planets, after all. Some theories speculate that the formation
and shaping of planetary nebulae is linked with the presence of
massive planets around the progenitor stars. In another respect, it
has been suggested that clumps in planetary nebulae are residuals of
planets or asteroids. If this proves to be true, this could make
planetary nebula research more popular among astronomers, in this
epoch were the search and exploration of extrasolar planets is one of
the most booming fields in astronomy.
This conference aims to explore the entire potential of planetary
nebulae as tools for astronomy. This is the first time that such a
conference is explicitly and exclusively devoted to this aspect.
It is intended both for astronomers who exploit or plan to exploit
planetary nebulae as tools in their field, and for planetary nebulae
specialists who wish to orientate their research for the use of a
wide astronomical population. These different communities do not know
each other well, and one of the purposes of the conference is to make
them exchange their knowledge and experience.
The Hubble Space Telescope Heritage Project has popularized images of
planetary nebulae. However, these images are often used by the media
without appropriate comments. One of the aims of our conference will
also be to discuss in depth how planetary nebulae can be used to
convey major ideas of physics and astronomy, and to initiate a
reflexion about the evolution of the Universe among the public.
We plan to accompany the conference with a series of outreach events,
closely related to the theme of the conference.