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Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have now tracked the spectacular fading of the Stingray Nebula, which when it was discovered in the mid-1990s was labeled the youngest such object ever found.
Astronomers have caught a rare look at a rapidly fading shroud of gas around an aging star. Archival data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the nebula Hen 3-1357, nicknamed the Stingray nebula, has faded precipitously over just the past two decades. Witnessing such a swift rate of change in a planetary nebula is exceeding rare, say researchers.
Images captured by Hubble in 2016, when compared to Hubble images taken in 1996, show a nebula that has drastically dimmed in brightness and changed shape. Bright blue fluorescent tendrils and filaments of gas toward the center of the nebula have all but disappeared, and the wavy edges that earned this nebula its aquatic-themed name are virtually gone. The young nebula no longer pops against the black velvet background of the vast universe.
Astronomers have found that the central star had been heating precipitiously in the late 20th century, from 40K to 108K degrees Fahrenheit. Since then it has begun to cool. They think that flash of heat, caused by what they think was short period of helium fusion, caused the planetary nebula to brighten, and now fade.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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