Why do Planetary Nebulae Look the Way They Do?

Hubble was recently retrained on NGC 6302, known as the "Butterfly Nebula," to observe it across a more complete spectrum of light, from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared, helping researchers better understand the mechanics at work in its technicolor "wings" of gas. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Kastner (RIT)

Planetary nebulae are the most beautiful objects in the night sky. Their gossamer shells of gas are otherworldly and evocative. They captivate the eye, and viewers need no scientific knowledge to get drawn in.

How are they created, and why do they look so beautiful?

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New Hubble Photos of Planetary Nebulae

Hubble was recently retrained on NGC 6302, known as the "Butterfly Nebula," to observe it across a more complete spectrum of light, from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared, helping researchers better understand the mechanics at work in its technicolor "wings" of gas. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Kastner (RIT)

Planetary nebulae are astronomy’s gateway drug. Their eye-catching forms make us wonder what process created them, and what else is going on up there in the night sky. They’re some of the most beautiful, ephemeral looking objects in all of nature.

The Hubble Space Telescope is responsible for many of our most gorgeous images of planetary nebulae. But the images are more than just engrossing eye candy. They’re documentation of a complex process that plays out over tens of thousands of years, all across the Universe.

And they’re a death knell for the star that dwells within.

Continue reading “New Hubble Photos of Planetary Nebulae”