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Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have taken a new image of the Twin Jet Nebula, a planetary nebula officially called PM M2-9.
The M in this name refers to Rudolph Minkowski, a German-American astronomer who discovered the nebula in 1947. The PN, meanwhile, refers to the fact that M2-9 is a planetary nebula. The glowing and expanding shells of gas clearly visible in this image represent the final stages of life for an old star of low to intermediate mass. The star has not only ejected its outer layers, but the exposed remnant core is now illuminating these layers — resulting in a spectacular light show like the one seen here. However, the Twin Jet Nebula is not just any planetary nebula, it is a bipolar nebula.
The bipolar nature of the nebula is thought to be caused by the interaction of a binary star system. I like to say that the orbiting stars act like the blades in a blender, mixing the ejected layers of material to produce the jets and shapes that make planetary nebula so beautiful.
Hubble first imaged this nebula in 1997. This image, using the telescope’s newer instruments, is important because it shows the complex layers within each jet, suggesting multiple ejection events in the past.