Planetary nebulae represent a final brief stage in the life of a star like the Sun. While consuming the last of the fuel in its core, the star expels a large portion of its outer regions, which then heats up and glows brightly, showing intricate structures that scientists are still trying to fully understand. The structure visible within NGC 5189 is particularly dramatic, and Hubble's image of the nebula is by far the most detailed yet made of this object .
Hubble has been a key tool for studying planetary nebulae for years, and many of its images have become famous. As well as being highly attractive, planetary nebulae tell us about the ultimate fate of the Sun, which will form such a nebula when it runs out of fuel in a little over five billion years.
These nebulae were named by astronomers studying them through early telescopes with little magnification and optics that were far from sharp. The brightly coloured nebulae are often roughly spherical, and many appear green or blue like Uranus and Neptune, so their appearance evoked that of gas giant planets like those in the outer Solar System.
Many of them do indeed look somewhat planetlike, but NGC 5189 certainly does not: the nebula forms a dramatic reverse S-shape.
Looking at the detail of Hubble's image, possible thanks to Hubble's very high resolution, the nebula shows a series of dense knots in the clouds of gas. The gas and radiation flowing out from the dying star carves out shapes in the clouds, forming glowing bow-wave-like patterns towards the centre of the nebula.
The knots in NGC 5189 are a reminder of just how vast the planetary nebula is. They might look like mere details in this image, but each and every one is a similar size to the entire Solar System.
The star at the centre of the nebula, a dense white dwarf, is far too small to see as anything other than a point of light, even though it is roughly the size of the Earth.
The overall shape of NGC 5189 can counterintuitively tell us about what is happening on very small scales around the tiny central star. NGC 5189's shape is reminiscent of a lawn sprinkler, with matter being expelled from the star, which is wobbling as it rotates.
Similar structures have been seen before, especially in planetary nebulae with binary stars at their centres. This is also a likely explanation for the structure of NGC 5189, though to date, only one star has been found at the nebula's centre.
ESA/Hubble Information Centre: http://www.spacetelescope.org
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday said it has certified privately held SpaceX to launch U.S. military and spy satellites, ending a monopoly held by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, since its creation in 2006.
Instrument selection has taken place for a robotic mission to study the habitability and vast sub-surface ocean of Europa
UAE Space Agency aims to become an industry leader with ambitious new plans, including a mission to Mars
United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, on Thursday said it would go out of business unless it won commercial and civil satellite launch orders to offset an expected slump in U.S. military and spy launches.
Jessica Banks was an astrophysicist at NASA; then she started RockPaperRobot and innovated the design of furniture and homes by incorporating advanced physics.
It took six hours and 100,000 miles to get there
When the New Horizons spacecraft races by the quasi-planetary body, Alan Stern will have finally met his match
Stellar explosions seed the universe with heavy elements, and they might have produced dense clouds of iron that went on to form other stars and planets
There were a lot of reasons that first picture was so unremarkable
The country's troubled space programme experiences another launch failure – the latest in a string of blunders