The Butterfly Nebula is changing, and astronomers are puzzled as to why these changes are occurring. Observations of this planetary nebula show dramatic changes in the butterfly’s ‘wings’ in just 11 years.
“I’ve been comparing Hubble images for years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Bruce Balick, a professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Washington.
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?
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.