Dying Star's Colorful Demise Captured by Hubble Telescope

This image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the gloomy and colorful scene of the star known as NGC 2371/2 dying in deep space. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Wade et al.)

The dark and gloomy scene of a dying star was caught on camera by the Hubble Space Telescope in the constellation Gemini.

This cosmic region is so complicated that when astronomers first turned their attention to it years ago, they recorded two objects there because there is a symmetrical lobed structure visible there. Today, we know that there is only a single object. Still, in deference to older naming conventions, the region is often known as NGC 2371/2 — a combination of the two older names: NGC 2371 and NGC 2372.

Together the two symmetrical lobes form a planetary nebula, which is a term leftover from an older era in astronomy. With some of the first telescopes, when views were very blurry, astronomers spotted some gassy objects that looked a bit like planets. But these objects turned out to not be planetary at all.

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"NGC 2371/2 formed when a sun-like star reached the end of its life and blasted off its outer layers, shedding the constituent material and pushing it out into space to leave just a superheated stellar remnant behind. This remnant is visible as the bright star at the center of the frame, sitting neatly between the two lobes," Hubble officials said in a statement.

Astronomers expect rapid change to occur in this region within the next few thousand years. The star is currently emitting radiation and lighting up nearby gas, but over time it will begin to fade into a white dwarf. Meanwhile, the jets visible in the image will change direction and the material will continue to expand around the dying star.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. 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