As a result of this stellar ballet, the two sun-like stars nearing the end of their lives have come together to create a beautiful cosmic butterfly.
This binary system’s primary star is now a red giant, and its mass is between 1.0 and 1.4 times that of the sun. What you see here is an outer gaseous envelope blowing away, exposing its stellar core, and ultimately, it will one day contract into a white dwarf.
The opposing star is a white dwarf that holds a mass between 0.6 and 1.0 times that of the sun.
The pair orbit each other every 100 years, and astronomers think the gravity of the white dwarf is pulling ejected gas from the dying star, twisting to form to thin iridescent lobes as a result, rather than expanding as a uniform sphere, resulting in the creation of the nebula.
With the nebula’s wings continuing to grow, scientists have used imagery to calculate the nebula’s age by measuring their rate of expansion, and they have calculated that the nebula is only 1200 years old.
There was an earlier image of the Twin Jet Nubula taken back in 1997 by Hubble’s Wide Field Plaetary Camera 2 (above). The one above that is a more recent version – the latest observations using Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
Essentially, a planetary nebula is a glowing and expanding shell of gas, released by a star during its final stages of life.
When heat hits the growing shells, different chemicals are ionized and a kaleidoscope of colour is the result.
If you look closely within the wings, starting from the starsystem, you will see two faint blue patches that stream outwards horizontally, like veins.
Despite their subtle appearance when compared to the nebula’s rainbow colours, these blue patches are actually violent twin jets that are moving at over a million kilometers per hour, pushing outward from the rapidly rotating star system.
By comparing images of these jets over time, it’s clear that they are slowly changing oritentation, moving across the lobes, as they’re pulled by the gravity of the binary system.
This rotation is not only responsible for creating the lobes and jets, but it also allows the white dwarf to strip gas from the larger star, which has caused a large disc of material to form around the two.
A planetary nebula does not involve actual planets, despite the name. The name orignates back to the 1780’s when it was first given, because when viewed with a telescope of the time, it appeared as though they were comprised of planets.
Check out this cool video that takes you on a unique journey to the Twin Jet Nubula!
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