Planetary nebula NGC 5189 as seen by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
It may be just a tad too big to hang on your tree but this bright, twisted planetary nebula would make a beautiful holiday ornament… if scaled a bit down to size, of course.
(Click the image to see it in its full festive glory!)
NGC 5189 is a planetary nebula that lies 1,800 light-years away in the southern constellation Musca. The gorgeous image above, acquired by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on October 8, 2012, shows the glowing streamers of oxygen, sulfur and hydrogen that are being blown far into space from the hot star star at its heart — HD 117622 (at right.)
The expelled gas forms a double structure, with a series of central blue lobes surrounded by a twisted helix of bright streamers, called radial filaments. These filaments are the result of fast-moving material from the star impacting previously expelled, slower-moving gas, which becomes visible due to ionizing radiation.
The twisted shapes — as opposed to the circular or spherical structures found in many planetary nebulae — may be the result of an unseen binary partner to HD 117622, which over time would affect its rotational orientation.
“The likely mechanism for the formation of this planetary nebula is the existence of a binary companion to the dying star,” said scientist Kevin Volk in a Gemini Observatory article from 2006. “Over time the orbits drift due to precession and this could result in the complex curves on the opposite sides of the star.”
Read more: How Much Do Binary Stars Shape Planetary Nebulae?
The surrounding stars in the image were captured in visible and near-infrared light.
Read more on the Hubble site here, and check out a video below that zooms into the region of the sky where NGC 5189 is located:
Video credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)