Planetary nebulae are some of the most beautiful objects in the Universe. Don’t let the name confuse you, though, they have nothing to do with planets. They’re all that’s left behind when stars at the end of their lives cast off their outer layers into space. Here’s a nice image released from the Hubble Space Telescope, containing 4 different planetary nebulae.
As a star like our Sun reaches the end of its long life, its ejects its outer layers in a series of dramatic events. The ultraviolet light from the star illuminates the material, causing it to glow like we see in this Hubble photograph. This same ultraviolet light also disperses the cloud of material, pushing it outward so that it eventually fades away into the vacuum of space.
Although the star might have lived for 10 billion years, its planetary nebula lasts for just a moment – only 10,000 years.
In this Hubble image there are 4 planetary nebula.
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At the top left is He 2-47, nicknamed the “starfish” because of its shape. It has six different lobes, which indicates that the original star shed material three different times in three different directions. With each ejection event, the star blasted out twin jets of material.
At the top right is NGC 5315, which seems to have an x-shaped structure. As with the previous nebula, it suffered two different ejection events, casting away its outer layers and firing out jets in opposite directions.
IC 4593 is on the bottom left, and it’s in the northern constellation Hercules. My good friend Phil Plait actually did a cool write up about this object, so I link you to his site for the scoop.
And finally, NGC 5307 is down at the bottom right, and has a beautiful spiral pattern. The dying star might have had a serious wobble as it was expelling gas, creating the complex shapes in the picture.
Original Source: Hubble News Release