Double lobed rare 'jug' shaped nebula hints at the future of our Sun

A billowing pair of dust and gas loops marking the death of an ancient red-giant star gives us a glimpse of how our Sun will end up.
Amal Jos Chacko
Nebula IC 2220 captured by the Gemini South telescope.
Nebula IC 2220 captured by the Gemini South telescope.


The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) announced the finding of a rare glowing nebula, the IC 2220, in a press release

This rare astronomical find, nicknamed the Toby Jug nebula due to its resemblance to an old English drinking vessel, is located 1200 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Carina. 

This reflection nebula— a double-lobed cloud of gas and dust created and illuminated by the red-giant star at the center— poses an excellent opportunity to study stellar evolution and cosmic structures, given that red giant stars have a shorter end-of-life phase.

The Story of HR3126

At the center of the Toby Jug Nebula lies its progenitor, a red-giant star called HR3126. Considerably younger than our Sun, this star has five times its mass, which allows it to burn through its hydrogen supply at an accelerated rate. 

As HR3126 swelled, its outer layers began to shed, forming a magnificent structure of gas and dust that reflects the star's light. Investigations of the Nebula in infrared light revealed silicon dioxide (silica) to be the most likely compound responsible for the Nebula's reflection.

Double lobed rare 'jug' shaped nebula hints at the future of our Sun
An image of the Milky Way hanging poised over the Gemini South telescope.

Unraveling the Mystery

Astronomers have been puzzled by the formation of bipolar structures like the Toby Jug Nebula. While they previously theorized that interactions with a binary companion star were responsible, no such companion was found for HR3126.

Instead, astronomers discovered an extremely compact disk of material surrounding the central star, suggestive of a former binary companion that might have been shredded into the disk, triggering the formation of the nebula.

Interestingly, the destiny of our own Sun mirrors that of HR3126. In approximately five billion years, when the Sun has exhausted its hydrogen supply, it will also become a red giant and eventually evolve into a planetary nebula. The beautiful and vibrant Toby Jug Nebula serves as a glimpse into the future fate of our Solar System, where all that will remain is a nebula with the slowly cooling Sun at its heart.

The Toby Jug Nebula was captured by the Gemini South telescope, one-half of the International Gemini Observatory, located on Cerro Pachón in the Chilean Andes. The image captured showcases the powerful imaging capabilities of the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrographs (GMOS), typically used to split light into various wavelengths. 

The Toby Jug Nebula serves as a reminder of the wonders that await us in the vastness of the cosmos.

This article was written and edited by a human, with the assistance of Generative AI tools. Find out more about our policy on AI-powered writing here.

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