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 between galaxies.
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 external galaxies.
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.
Conference organization, the list of invited speakers, and registration details can be found at: http://www.ncac.torun.pl/~pngdansk/
Please note that the deadline for pre-registration and the submission of abstracts is 28 February 2005.