Hubble Captures Stunning Images of Dying Stars Gone Haywire

These nebulae are splitting apart in such a short time that astronomers are able to see changes over the past decades.
Derya Ozdemir

NASA has released stunning Hubble images of "stars gone haywire," showing the spectacular final stages of two stars nearing the end of their lives.

Using observations of two nebulae collected in multi-wavelength form by NASA's Hubble space telescope, a team of astronomers was able to make several new discoveries about what the stars go through in their last minutes.

Joel Kastner, the lead author of the new paper, stated, "These new multi-wavelength Hubble observations provide the most comprehensive view to date of both of these spectacular nebulas. As I was downloading the resulting images, I felt like a kid in a candy store."


Butterfly Nebula and Jewel Bug Nebula

The stunning images depict two nearby young planetary nebulae, NGC 6302, in other words, the Butterfly Nebula, and NGC 7027, the Jewel Bug Nebula. They are of the dustiest planetary nebulae known to date and contain large masses of gas.

Hubble Captures Stunning Images of Dying Stars Gone Haywire
Source: NASA, ESA and J. Kastner

Kastner’s team saw that the nebulae split apart in a short period of time, and thereby, suspect that each nebula core once had two stars in close proximity to each other, which might be the reason why the vast dust clouds had formed.

Hubble Captures Stunning Images of Dying Stars Gone Haywire
Source: NASA, ESA and J. Kastner

A cosmic dance that resembles 'a pair of figure skaters'

Both nebulas might have had two stars that circle around each other in a cosmic dance at their heart, like "a pair of figure skaters." This would mean that the mass that one star loses would be absorbed by the other.

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Researchers suggest that this could be the reason why we see the butterfly pattern in one nebula since the lower-mass star would be eaten up by its bigger twin. 

A unifying concept, without a rival

Bruce Balick, the co-author of the research, said, "The suspected companion stars in NGC 6302 and NGC 7027 haven’t been directly detected because they are next to, or perhaps have already been swallowed by, larger red giant stars, a type of star that is hundreds to thousands of times brighter than the Sun."

"The hypothesis of merging stars seems the best and simplest explanation for the features seen in the most active and symmetric planetary nebulas," he added. "It’s a powerful unifying concept, so far without rival."

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