Planetary nebula IC 1295
April 10, 2013

Ghostly Glow Of Planetary Nebula IC 1295

[ Watch the Video: Zooming In On The Planetary Nebula IC 1295 ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new image released by the European Space Observatory (ESO) shows the glowing green planetary nebula IC 1295.

The new pictures taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) shows the nebula surrounding a dim and dying star located about 3300 light-years away in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield).

"It has the unusual feature of being surrounded by multiple shells that make it resemble a micro-organism seen under a microscope, with many layers corresponding to the membranes of a cell," according to an ESO statement.

The glowing green bubble seen in the image is made out of gas that used to be the star's atmosphere. The gas has been expelled by unstable fusion reactions in the star's core that generated sudden releases of energy. It contains ultraviolet radiation, which gives it its glow.

In the center of the image, you can see the burned-out remnant of the star's core as a bright blue-white spot at the heart of the nebula. The central star will become a very faint white dwarf and slowly cool down over many billions of years.

Stars that have masses like the Sun and up to eight times that of the Sun will form planetary nebulae as they enter the final phase of their existence.

The name 'planetary nebula' has nothing to do with planets. It is actually a descriptive term applied to some early discoveries because of the visual similarity of these objects to the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. Early astronomers using older telescopes saw these far away planets as glowing gas.

ESO released another beautiful image of the bright star cluster NGC 6520 back in February. The image shows NGC 6520 alongside a strange dark cloud known as Barnard 86. These two objects sit inside millions of glowing stars in the brightest part of the Milky Way galaxy. Barnard 86 is a dark nebula known as a Bok globule. Although in the image it appears as if it was a break in the stars, the nebula is actually made up of small dust grains that block out starlight. Astronomers believe this nebula formed from the remnants of a molecular cloud that collapsed to form the nearby star cluster NGC 6520.

ESO's VLT is the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory. The space observatory continues to provide scientists with unique views of the universe that exists beyond what conventional backyard telescopes pick up.