The legendary Hubble Space Telescope just keeps doing wonders sending back stunning views from space. This time, its cameras have turned towards NGC 2022.
The orbiting telescope has caught a mesmerizing picture of the planetary nebula NGC 2022. What looks like a top-down view of a jellyfish glowing in deep space, is actually a vast orb of gas cast off by an old star.
The object likely won’t last long as the aging central star appears to have already expelled a huge amount of its material, forming the two shells visible in the image.
When stars like the Sun grow old, they expand into so-called red giants and glow red. Then, they begin to shed their outer layers of material into space. During this process, the star can lose half of its mass, forming a shell of surrounding gas, similar to NGC 2022.
Although it looks more like an entity seen through a microscope than a telescope, this rounded object, named NGC 2022, is a vast orb of gas in space, cast off by an ageing star. Credit: @ESA / @Hubble_Space / @NASA R. Wade https://t.co/zOVXp12mnV pic.twitter.com/99opx0kIoi— HUBBLE (@HUBBLE_space) August 12, 2019
This planetary nebula lies in the constellation of Orion, 8,213 light-years away from Earth.
The fact that the central star has probably exhausted most of its hydrogen reserves and has already expanded and begun glowing red, indicates that the end is near.
Meanwhile, the star’s core shrinks and grows increasingly hotter. Therefore emitting vast amounts of ultraviolet light, illuminating the expelled gases and giving them a beautiful glow.
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In 1785 the famous British astronomer William Herschel became the first to discover NGC 2022.
However, the term “planetary nebula” is a misnomer because such objects have nothing to do with planets. The name originates from early times when these kinds of objects appeared like planets in old telescopes.
Such planetary nebulae usually last about 10,000 years before becoming invisible to us and leaving behind a white dwarf.