A Brief Moment in Cosmic Time

Tens of thousands of human years in length

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star’s demise is still quite lengthy by our standards, lasting tens of thousands of years! The star’s agony has culminated in a wonderful planetary nebula known as NGC 6565, a cloud of gas that was ejected from the star after strong stellar winds pushed the star’s outer layers away into space. Once enough material was ejected, the star’s luminous core was exposed and it began to produce ultraviolet radiation, exciting the surrounding gas to varying degrees and causing it to radiate in an attractive array of colours. These same colours can be seen in the famous and impressive Ring Nebula (heic1310), a prominent example of a nebula like this one. Planetary nebulae are illuminated for around 10 000 years before the central star begins to cool and shrink to become a white dwarf. When this happens, the star’s light drastically diminishes and ceases to excite the surrounding gas, so the nebula fades from view. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures basic image competition by contestant Matej Novak.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Matej Novak
Text credit: European Space Agency

Space news (August 14, 2015) – planetary nebula NGC 6565; 6 degrees off center of the Milky Way, 15,200 light-years toward constellation Sagittarius, about halfway to the central core 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a dying star during the final moments of its life cycle. Lasting tens of thousands of years on human time scales, the death of this star is but a brief moment in cosmic time.

Called planetary nebula NGC 6565, Hen 2-362 or ESO 456-70, depending on the space institute or astronomer you ask, this object will eventually shrink down to become a white dwarf star. 

Similar to the color display to the well-known Ring Nebula (heic 1310), the stunning cloud of colorful gas seen here was ejected from the dying star due to strong stellar winds pushing the outer layers into space. The luminous core viewed was exposed in the process, which allowed ultraviolet radiation to excite the surrounding gas to different temperatures, producing this visually attractive display of color. 

NASA scientists study planetary nebula like NGC 6565 to better understand the life cycle and death of stars that end their lives as white dwarf stars. The data obtained through the study of this planetary nebula will be added to the material already obtained concerning similar stellar objects. This will help astrophysics develop better ideas and theories concerning the life of stars that end their days as white dwarf stars.

You can learn more about the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Read more about planetary nebula here.

You can learn and follow NASA’s mission to the stars here.

Learn more about infant suns and their life cycles.

Read about NASA’s search for ultra-light weight materials with the right stuff to help enable the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Read about ancient dust containing metal ions falling onto Mars atmosphere from Oort Cloud comet.




Planetary Nebula NGC 6818 Shows a Different Face

Little Gem Nebula shows off complex, knotty filament structures with a bright, enclosed central gas bubble surrounded by larger, more diffuse gas clouds

This colourful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale. When stars like the Sun enter retirement, they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. NGC 6818 shows knotty filament-like structures and distinct layers of material, with a bright and enclosed central bubble surrounded by a larger, more diffuse cloud. Scientists believe that the stellar wind from the central star propels the outflowing material, sculpting the elongated shape of NGC 6818. As this fast wind smashes through the slower-moving cloud it creates particularly bright blowouts at the bubble’s outer layers. Hubble previously imaged this nebula back in 1997 with its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, using a mix of filters that highlighted emission from ionised oxygen and hydrogen (opo9811h). This image, while from the same camera, uses different filters to reveal a different view of the nebula. A version of the image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Space news (August 15, 2015) – approximately 6,000 light-years toward the constellation Sagittarius (The Archer) –

When NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope first looked at the Little Gem Nebula (NGC 6818) using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 back in 1997, the image obtained was done so with filters that highlighted ionized oxygen and hydrogen in the planetary nebula.

This image of the Little Gem Nebula shows off complex structures with a bright, enclosed central gas bubble surrounded by larger, more diffuse gas clouds obtained using different filters. Offering the human journey to the beginning of space and time a totally different view of this spectacular stellar object.  

Our own Sun billions of years in the future will shed its outer layers into space to create a glowing cloud of gas similar to planetary nebula NGC 6818. Space scientists believe the stellar wind created by the star at the center of this planetary nebula provides the force to propel the uneven outflowing mass.

Studying the final days of sun-like stars provides scientists with data concerning the life cycle of stars similar in size and output to the Sun. Data they can use to devise new ideas and theories to delve deeper into the mysteries surrounding the closest star to Earth.

You can find more information on planetary nebula here.

Learn more about NASA’s space mission here.

You can learn more about the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Learn about NASA’s New Horizons recent arrival and current exploration of Pluto.

Read about plans to take the human journey to the stars on a billion mile journey to Jupiter’s moon Europa to look for signs of life.

Learn more about main sequence stars like the Sun.