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'Hen's Wings' Glow Blue in Enchanting Hubble Telescope Image

Nebula Hen 2-437
Symmetrical blue jets of gas stream out from the core of Hen 2-437, a planetary nebula, in this new image from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

The glowing, symmetrical wings of the Hen 2-437 nebula shine in luminescent blue in a new image obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hen 2-437 is in a faint northern constellation called Vulpecula (the fox), which is located near Cygnus and Pegasus. The object was first found in 1946 by Rudolph Minkowski, who later discovered the more famous M2-9 Twin Jet Nebula.

"As shown by its remarkably beautiful appearance, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula — the material ejected by the dying star has streamed out into space to create the two icy-blue lobes pictured here," European Space Agency officials said in a statement.

Hen 2-437 is known as a planetary nebula, which is one of the late stages in the lifetime of low-mass stars similar in size to the sun. When a star is in that stage, it grows into a red giant star and then sheds its outer layers into space. As fusion in the core ceases, the star remnants slowly cool as a white dwarf. 

Although "planetary" is in the term "planetary nebula," the nebula is a collection of gas and dust and does not have anything to do with planet formation. The name is a misnomer based on observations by astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781. He thought the blue-green tint of planetary nebulas he observed resembled the planet's hue.

Roughly 3,000 planetary nebulas have been discovered so far. Some of the more famous examples of these nebulas include the Ring Nebula (NGC 6720) in the constellation Lyra, and the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) in the constellation Draco. Both of these nebulas were also imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope over the years.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.