Astronomers have used the NASA Hubble Space Telescope’s full range of imaging capabilities to discover the chaos ensuing in two nearby young planetary nebulas: NGC 6302, the Butterfly Nebula because of its wing-like appearance and NGC 7027, a jewel bug-like insect with a colorful metallic shell. The research team found never seen before levels of complexity and rapid changes in jets and gas bubbles blasting off of the stars at the centers of both nebulas. Read more for two videos and additional information.
Astronomers speculate that at the hearts of both nebulas are two stars circling around each other, like a pair of figure skaters. Evidence comes from the bizarre shapes of these nebulas, as each one has a pinched, dusty waist and polar lobes or outflows, as well as more complex symmetrical patterns. One reason for this type of structure is that the mass-losing star is one of two stars in a binary system.
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When I looked in the Hubble archive and realized no one had observed these nebulas with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 across its full wavelength range, I was floored. These new multi-wavelength Hubble observations provide the most comprehensive view to date of both of these spectacular nebulas. As I was downloading the resulting images, I felt like a kid in a candy store,” said Joel Kastner of Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, leader of the new study.