Photo credit: NASA, ESA, B. Balick
When you compare images of the stingray nebula that Hubble captured in 2016 compared to those taken in 1996, you’ll see that it has drastically dimmed in brightness as well as changed shape. Most of the bright, blue, fluorescent tendrils and filaments of gas toward the center of the nebula have vanished, along with the wavy edges gave this nebula its aquatic-themed name. Plus, this young nebula no longer stands out against the black velvet background of the vast universe. Read more for two videos and additional information.
What caused this dimming? Researchers theorize that its rapid changes are a response to its central star, SAO 244567, expanding due to a temperature drop, and in turn emitting less ionizing radiation. Unfortunately, this means that the nebula will barely be visible or detectable in about 20 or 30 years.
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This is very, very dramatic, and very weird. What we’re witnessing is a nebula’s evolution in real time. In a span of years, we see variations in the nebula. We have not seen that before with the clarity we get with this view. Because of Hubble’s optical stability, we are very, very confident that this nebula is changing in brightness with time. This is something that can only be confirmed with Hubble’s visual acuity.” said team member Martín A. Guerrero of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada, Spain.