Today's Image

A dynamic dying star, caught by Hubble

Two big fuzzy purple and pink roundish clouds with a bright star in the middle between them.
You’ve heard of planetary nebulae? They have nothing to do with planets. They’re shells of gas, sloughed off by dying stars. This image – taken with the Hubble Space Telescope – shows a 2-lobed planetary nebula known as NGC 2371/2. The lobes are the cloudy regions in the lower left and upper right, released by the bright star at the center of the frame. The star, now dying, will eventually cool and dim to become a white dwarf. Image via ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Wade et al.

Here’s how NASA described this Hubble Space Telescope photo:

The subject of this image confused astronomers when it was first studied – rather than being classified as a single object, it was instead recorded as two objects, owing to its symmetrical lobed structure (known as NGC 2371 and NGC 2372, though sometimes referred to together as NGC 2371/2).

These two lobes are visible to the lower left and upper right of the frame, and together form something known as a planetary nebula. Despite the name, such nebulas have nothing to do with planets; NGC 2371/2 formed when a sun-like star reached the end of its life and blasted off its outer layers, shedding the constituent material and pushing it out into space to leave just a superheated stellar remnant behind. This remnant is visible as the bright star at the center of the frame, sitting neatly between the two lobes.

The structure of this region is complex. It is filled with dense knots of gas, fast-moving jets that appear to be changing direction over time, and expanding clouds of material streaming outwards on diametrically opposite sides of the remnant star. Patches of this scene glow brightly as the remnant star emits energetic radiation that excites the gas within these regions, causing it to light up. This scene will continue to change over the next few thousand years. Eventually the knotty lobes will dissipate completely, and the remnant star will cool and dim to form a white dwarf.

Bottom line: Two-lobed planetary nebula NGC 2371/2, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.


August 31, 2019
Today's Image

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