Cosmic Butterfly captured in the photo. It looks delightful

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) belonging to the European Southern Observatory has taken a phenomenal picture of the vast gas bubble NGC 2899. It is characterized by a symmetrical structure, sensational colors and delicate details. Never before has this particular object been photographed in such quality.

In today’s image, a cloud of gas heated to over ten thousand degrees, stretching up to two light-years from the center, shines brightly against the Milky Way’s numerous stars. The high temperature of the gas is caused by the intense radiation from the nebula’s host star, causing the hydrogen in the nebula to glow reddish around the glowing blue oxygen.

Planetary Nebula NGC 2899

The nebula is between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Vela. In its center there are two stars which are responsible for its almost perfectly symmetrical shape. After one of these stars reached the end of its life and shed its outer layers, the other began to influence the gas flow, leading to the shape seen above. Only 10-20% of planetary nebulae assume this bipolar shape.

Astronomers were able to take such a detailed image of NGC 2899 with the FORS instrument mounted on the 8.2-meter-diameter UT1 telescope, part of the Very Large Telescope in Chile. This is the same telescope that first recorded radiation from a gravitational wave source, studied the first interstellar asteroid, and is used to study the physical processes responsible for the formation of complex planetary nebulae.

The image of the nebula was taken as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems program, where interesting, intriguing and visually interesting deep sky objects are photographed to popularize science. Pictures under this program are taken when it is impossible to conduct scientific observations.

Map showing the location of the planetary nebula NGC 2899 in the constellation of Sail. Source: ESO

Planetary nebulae and planets

Contrary to what their name implies, planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. The first astronomers to spot them in their telescopes said they looked like planets. In fact, planetary nebulae form when old stars up to 6 times the mass of the sun reach the end of their lives and shed their outer gaseous envelopes rich in heavy elements (heavy elements for astronomers are all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium). The intense ultraviolet radiation emitted by the debris from the star excites and illuminates these receding shells, making them glow for several thousand years before completely dissolving into space. On a cosmic scale, therefore, each planetary nebula only exists for a short time.

Cosmic Butterfly captured in the photo. It looks delightful