The Last Confessions of a Dying Star

Mar 04, 2008
Planetary Nebula NGC 2371
Planetary Nebula NGC 2371. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Probing a glowing bubble of gas and dust encircling a dying star, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals a wealth of previously unseen structures.

The object, called NGC 2371, is a planetary nebula, the glowing remains of a Sun-like star. The remnant star visible at the center of NGC 2371 is the super-hot core of the former red giant, now stripped of its outer layers. Its surface temperature is a scorching 240,000 degrees Fahrenheit. NGC 2371 lies about 4,300 light-years away in the constellation Gemini.

The Hubble image reveals several remarkable features, most notably the prominent pink clouds lying on opposite sides of the central star. This color indicates that they are relatively cool and dense, compared to the rest of the gas in the nebula.

Also striking are the numerous, very small pink dots, marking relatively dense and small knots of gas, which also lie on diametrically opposite sides of the star. These features appear to represent the ejection of gas from the star along a specific direction. The jet's direction has changed with time over the past few thousand years. The reason for this behavior is not well understood, but might be related to the possible presence of a second star orbiting the visible central star.

A planetary nebula is an expanding cloud of gas ejected from a star that is nearing the end of its life. The nebula glows because of ultraviolet radiation from the hot remnant star at its center. In only a few thousand years the nebula will dissipate into space. The central star will then gradually cool down, eventually becoming a white dwarf, the final stage of evolution for nearly all stars.

The Hubble picture of NGC 2371 is a false-color image, prepared from exposures taken through filters that detect light from sulfur and nitrogen (red), hydrogen (green), and oxygen (blue). These images were taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in November 2007, as part of the Hubble Heritage program.

Source: Hubble Center

Explore further: Astronomers discover likely precursors of galaxy clusters we see today

Related Stories

Dark matter is darker than once thought

4 hours ago

This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on ...

Hubble explores the mysteries of UGC 8201

Mar 19, 2015

The galaxy UGC 8201, captured here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is a dwarf irregular galaxy, so called because of its small size and chaotic structure. It lies just under 15 million light-years ...

"Mini supernova" explosion could have big impact

Mar 16, 2015

In Hollywood blockbusters, explosions are often among the stars of the show. In space, explosions of actual stars are a focus for scientists who hope to better understand their births, lives, and deaths and ...

Cosmic dust discs withstand hellfire

Mar 10, 2015

A team of scientists led by astronomers at the University of Bonn discovered an unusual phenomenon in the centre of the Milky Way: They detected about 20 rotating dust and gas discs in each cluster hosting ...

Recommended for you

Image: The tumultuous heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud

18 hours ago

A scene of jagged fiery peaks, turbulent magma-like clouds and fiercely hot bursts of bright light. Although this may be reminiscent of a raging fire or the heart of a volcano, it actually shows a cold cosmic ...

Rocky planets may orbit many double stars

Mar 30, 2015

Luke Skywalker's home in "Star Wars" is the desert planet Tatooine, with twin sunsets because it orbits two stars. So far, only uninhabitable gas-giant planets have been identified circling such binary stars, ...

Is the universe finite or infinite?

Mar 27, 2015

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.