Hubble Image Of Planetary Nebula Resembles Christmas Ribbon
December 18, 2012

Hubble Image Of Planetary Nebula Resembles Christmas Ribbon

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have released a new Hubble Space Telescope image of the planetary nebula NGC 5189.

In the essence of the Christmas spirit, ESA describes the cosmic structure of the eruption as a "giant and brightly colored ribbon in space."

The structure visible within NGC 5189 is particularly dramatic, and the space agencies said the image is the most detailed yet image of this object.

Planetary nebulae are the final stage in life of a star. It expels a large portion of its outer regions, heating up and glowing brightly. Eventually, our Sun will form a nebula much like this one when it runs out of fuel in a little over five billion years.

Nebulae are often spherical, and many can appear green or blue like Uranus and Neptune. Many of them can look planet-like, but NGC 5189 forms a dramatic reverse S-shape, making it obviously not a planet candidate.

The nebula shows a series of dense knots in the clouds of gas, which the dying star helps to carve out in the clouds.

The knots in NGC 5189 are a reminder of just how vast the planetary nebula is. They look like mere details in the image, but each one is similar in size to the entire Solar System.

ESA said the star seen at the center of the nebula is far too small to be seen as anything other than a point of light.

NGC 5189's overall shape helps scientists know what is taking place on a very small scale around the star. The shape is reminiscent of a lawn sprinkler, with matter being expelled from the star.

Similar structures have been seen before with binary stars at their centers, but only one star has been found in NGC 5189.