Tag Archives: planetary nebula

New Hubble image of Red Rectangle

The Red Rectangle

Cool image time! I think the Red Rectangle might be my favorite planetary nebula. The new image on the right, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is the best yet of this weirdly shaped object. And it continues to suggest, as I noted whimsically in an article about it for Sky & Telescope back in November 2014, that this is a web being spin by the universe’s largest spider.

New Hubble image of Twin Jet Nebula

Twin Jet Nebula

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.

A survey of planetary nebulae near the Milky Way’s central bulge has revealed that they tend to be aligned with each other.

A survey of planetary nebulae near the Milky Way’s central bulge has revealed that they tend to be aligned with each other.

This discovery is unexpected and suggests that the influence of the bulge, probably its magnetic field, is far greater than predicted.

Hubble captures a necklace in space

necklace in space

Who needs aliens and imagined cities on the moon when you have a reality that produces such strange and beautiful things as the image on the right?

On July 2, the Hubble Space Telescope took this image of a planetary nebula, aptly dubbed the Necklace Nebula. As the caption explains,

A pair of stars orbiting close together produced the nebula, also called PN G054.2-03.4. About 10,000 years ago one of the aging stars ballooned to the point where it engulfed its companion star. The smaller star continued orbiting inside its larger companion, increasing the giant’s rotation rate.

The bloated companion star spun so fast that a large part of its gaseous envelope expanded into space. Due to centrifugal force, most of the gas escaped along the star’s equator, producing a ring. The embedded bright knots are dense gas clumps in the ring.

The binary still exists, and can be seen as the star in the center of the necklace. The two stars are now only a few million miles apart and complete an orbit around each other in about a day.