Hubble sees a planetary nebula in the making

October 12, 2012, NASA

Credit: ESA/NASA
(—The Universe is filled with mysterious objects. Many of them are as strange as they are beautiful. Among these, planetary nebulae are probably one of the most fascinating objects to behold in the night sky. No other type of object has such a large variety of shapes and structures. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provided us with a striking image of Hen 3-1475, a planetary nebula in the making.

Planetary nebulae—the name arises because most of these objects resembled a planet when they were first discovered through early telescopes—are expanding, glowing shells of gas coming from sun-like stars at the ends of their lives. They glow brightly because of the radiation that comes from a hot, compact core, which remains after the outer envelope is ejected, and is powerful enough to make these gossamer shells shine.

Each is complex and unique. Hen 3-1475 is a great example of a planetary nebula in the making, a phase which is known to astronomers as a protoplanetary or preplanetary nebula.

Since the central star has not yet blown away its complete shell, the star is not hot enough to ionize the shell of gas and so the nebula does not shine. Rather, we see the expelled gas thanks to light reflected off it. When the star's envelope is fully ejected, it will begin to glow and become a planetary nebula.

Hen 3-1475 is located in the of around 18,000 light-years away from us. The central star is more than 12,000 times as luminous as our sun. Its most characteristic feature is a thick ring of dust around the central star and two S-shaped jets that are emerging from the pole regions of the . These jets are long outflows of fast-moving gas travelling at hundreds of kilometers per second.

The formation of these bipolar jets has puzzled astronomers for a long time. How can a spherical star form these complex structures? Recent studies suggest that the object's characteristic shape and the large velocity outflow is created by a central source that ejects streams of gas in opposite directions and precesses once every thousand years. Precession means a change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotating body. It is like an enormous, slowly rotating garden sprinkler in the middle of the sky. No wonder astronomers also have nicknamed this object the "Garden-sprinkler Nebula."

This picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, which provides significantly higher resolution than previous observations made with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

Explore further: Hubble images searchlight beams from a preplanetary nebula

Related Stories

Hubble images searchlight beams from a preplanetary nebula

April 28, 2012

( -- The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been at the cutting edge of research into what happens to stars like our sun at the ends of their lives. One stage that stars pass through as they run out of nuclear fuel ...

The Last Confessions of a Dying Star

March 4, 2008

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 Colorful Demise of a Sun-Like Star

February 13, 2007

This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the colorful "last hurrah" of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star's remaining ...

Hubble Captures Stars Going Out in Style

September 11, 2007

The colorful, intricate shapes in these NASA Hubble Space Telescope images reveal how the glowing gas ejected by dying Sun-like stars evolves dramatically over time.

Dying star creates fantasy-like sculpture of gas and dust

September 9, 2004

A new study of a large number of planetary nebulae has revealed that rings, such as those seen here around the Cat's Eye Nebula, are much more common that thought so far and have been found in at least one third of all planetary ...

Image: A chameleon sky

September 3, 2010

The sands of time are running out for the central star of this the Hourglass Nebula.

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2012
Duh....This is also a way larger spiral structures form. Likely this large unstable star also periodically erupts explosively, forming the shells. Just more support LaViolette's model. The vast range of combinations of precessing jets combined with explosive eruptions can produce the tremendous variety of structures that continue to confound confused astronomers.
1 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
There's the twisting birkeland currents, and there is the z-pinch. Clearly this is another example of a plasma focus discharge.
3.5 / 5 (11) Oct 12, 2012
It's funny when the crackpots can't agree with each other.
3.5 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2012
There's the twisting birkeland currents, and there is the z-pinch. Clearly this is another example of a plasma focus discharge.

So happy am I. I was afraid I'd have to forgo my daily dose of plasma news.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 16, 2012
It's funny when the crackpots can't agree with each other.

Surely they are just trolling. Anyone with enough education to have a serious opinion would also know better than to support such an opinion.

It's difficult to imagine what this thing would look like from close up, like from the surface of a planet orbiting the star. Imagine how cool the night sky would look there. I know, it wouldn't be a very pleasant place to live, but it's still fun to imagine. Similarly, there should be newly formed stars, and perhaps some with planets, inside some of the larger star-forming nebulae. Imagine, for example, standing on a planet inside the horsehead nebula. Our little corner of the galaxy is just so plain and boring, but also nice and safe, relatively speaking.

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.