Rainbow jets of gas blast away from twin dying stars in a gorgeous new photo snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The image, which was released Wednesday (Aug. 26), shows the Twin Jet Nebula. This nebula is the endgame for a pair of stars, each about the mass of the sun, which are shedding dust outward at 621,400 mph (1 million km/h) down the center of two glowing lobes. The European Space Agency's Hubble team also unveiled a new video explaining the awesome colors of the Twin Jet nebula and other dazzling nebula forms.
The Twin Jet Nebula, also called PN M2-9, lies 2,100 light-years from Earth. The larger of its two stars has ejected most of its outer layers and is now collapsing down into a white dwarf, and its smaller companion is already one of these superdense stellar corpses.
As the star collapses, its orbit with the white dwarf companion whips the ejecting gas into a frenzy, blasting out two slowly corkscrewing jets that form the expanding gas into two wings (the blue patches at the center of the lobes).
The two stars circle one another every 100 years, and their motion also forms a smaller bright disk of material, perpendicular to the jets, that the white dwarf pulls out of the collapsing star. That disk is too small to see from Hubble's distance, but it's around 15 times the size of Pluto's orbit, researchers said.
Since the nebula was first imaged by ground-based instruments and Hubble back in the 1990s, the nebula's wings, about 1 light-year in length, have extended farther and farther. Based on their expansion, astronomers estimate the nebula to be 1,200 years old.
Although the system is called a planetary nebula, it has nothing to do with planets. Such nebulas are always caused by dying stars; the name come from the fact that they resembled planets through early telescopes. Only by looking more closely, with powerful magnification, can researchers reveal the complicated structure and detail of the stars' demise.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched by NASA in 1990 and is a collaboration between the U.S. and European space agencies.