The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a striking photo of a star in its death throes.
The dying star is throwing off huge clouds of gas and dust, preparing to enter the planetary nebula stage of its life. But contrary to their name, planetary nebulas have nothing to do with planets; the name instead refers to their superficial resemblance to giant planets when seen through early telescopes. [New photo of dying star]
Planetary nebulas form when stars like this one ? which is called IRAS 20068+4051 ? exhaust their hydrogen fuel. The stars' outer layers expand and cool, creating a huge, surrounding envelope of dust and gas.
IRAS 20068+4051, which is found in the constellation Cygnus, hasn't yet become a full-blown planetary nebula, researchers said. It's still in the short-lived protoplanetary nebula phase, and could thus give astronomers key insights into how planetary nebulas form and evolve.
Powerful stellar winds have shaped the star's envelope ? which was originally spherical ? into the intricate shape seen in the new image. As the star continues to evolve, it will eventually become hot enough to make this gas cloud glow, creating a spectacular planetary nebula, researchers said.
Planetary nebulas emit a broad spectrum of radiation, including visible light, making them great targets for both amateur and professional astronomers.
However, protoplanetary nebulas, which often appear smaller and are viewed best in infrared light, are much trickier to observe, particularly since water vapor in the Earth?s atmosphere absorbs infrared radiation at most wavelengths. But, Hubble's sharp vision and unobstructed vantage point in space make it possible to capture good images of these peculiar cosmic objects.
This picture was created from images taken through yellow (colored blue in the photo) and near-infrared (colored red) filters using the High Resolution Channel of Hubble?s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
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