To celebrate the 29th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers captured this stunning image of the tentacled Southern Crab Nebula. Officially known as Hen 2-104, this nebula is located several thousand light-years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus, and appears to have two nested hourglass-shaped structures that were sculpted by a whirling pair of stars in a binary system. These two consist of an aging red giant star and a burned-out star, also known as a white dwarf. The red giant is shedding its outer layers, while some of this ejected material is attracted by the gravity of the companion white dwarf. Read more for two additional videos and information.
“The bubbles of gas and dust appear brightest at the edges, giving the illusion of crab leg structures. These “legs” are likely to be the places where the outflow slams into surrounding interstellar gas and dust, or possibly material which was earlier lost by the red giant star. The outflow may only last a few thousand years, a tiny fraction of the lifetime of the system. This means that the outer structure may be just thousands of years old, but the inner hourglass must be a more recent outflow event. The red giant will ultimately collapse to become a white dwarf. After that, the surviving pair of white dwarfs will illuminate a shell of gas called a planetary nebula,” according to Hubble Site.