Like a butterfly with a symmetrical structure, vivid colors, and fantastic patterns, a striking bubble of gas, dubbed NGC 2899 intrigues astronomers.
The phenomenon seems to flutter and float across the sky in the recent shot captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The newly found cosmic feature is imaged in such striking detail that we can notice even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula shining over the background stars. Here is what you need to know.
A Butterfly in Space
NGC 2899’s massive swathes of gas reach a length of approximately two light-years from its center, shining brightly in front of the stars of the Milky Way. The high temperatures (ten thousand degrees) are due to the vast amount of radiation from the nebula’s parent star, which triggers the hydrogen gas in the nebula to shine in a reddish halo around the oxygen gas, in an incredible blue shade.
This cosmic feature is between 3000 and 6500 light-years away in the Southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). It also has two central stars, believed to give it the almost symmetric shape.
After one star reached the end of its existence and cast off its outer edges, the other star interferes with the gas, producing the two-lobed pattern captured in the photo. Only around 10-20 % of planetary nebulae show such a type of bipolar appearance.
Astronomers succeeded in capturing the highly detailed shot of NGC 2899 using the FORS (FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph) device installed on UT1 (Antu), one of the four 8.2-meter space telescopes that make up ESO’s VLT. This high-resolution device was one of the first to be attached to ESO’s VLT and is behind lots of stunning shots and findings from ESO.
FORS has realized observations of light from a gravitational wave source and has examined the first known interstellar asteroid. It was also used to investigate in depth the physics of the formation of advanced planetary nebulae.