'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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace