The European Space Agency published a high-resolution photograph of the ‘Twin Jet’ Nebula, also nicknamed `The Cosmic Butterfly`, as spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Twin Jet nebula may look like a beautifully ethereal butterfly, but in fact it is a binary central star system with two-lobed nebula extending outwards, surrounded by elongated shells of gas. Its location is in the Ophiuchus constellation, situated 2, 000 light years away from Earth.
The nebula’s origins lie in the movement of the 2 central stars; by calculating the expansion of the wings scientists concluded that the lobes are just around 1,200 years old. Each of the stars has approximately the same mass as the Sun: the smaller one is a white dwarf which has circa 0.6-1 solar masses, while the larger one is a dying red giant, at around 1-1.4 solar masses. The main hypothesis states that the smaller celestial body revolves around its companion, displacing the ejected gas in two directions; every 100 years, the stars orbit each other.
Due to its structure, the `Cosmic Butterfly’ falls into the `bipolar nebulae` category, but so far it hasn’t been established if all such formations result from the activity of binary stars. At a closer look, one can see blue streams inside the lobes near the center. They are actually `violent twin jets` surging into space at speeds surpassing 1,000,000 km/h.
According to the ESA, ’The glowing and expanding shells of gas clearly visible in this image represent the final stages of life for an old star of low to intermediate mass. The star has not only ejected its outer layers, but the exposed remnant core is now illuminating these layers—resulting in a spectacular light show.’
The space formation has been photographed before (most recently in 1997), but this image is by far the one with the highest clarity. The nebula was discovered by German-American astronomer Rudolph Minkowski in 1947 and named PN (Planetary Nebula) M2-9. Its `Twin Jet’ nickname stems from the fact that each side looks like the exhaust fumes from a jet engine.
This is just one of the myriad images broadcast by Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph ever since its launch in 1990 and definitely among the most visually-stunning. It also gives us the opportunity to preview our own Sun’s Fate: 5 billion years from now, the Sun will become a red giant, eject its own nebula and compress into a white dwarf.
Image Source: Wikipedia