NASA recently released mesmerizing images of two nebulas captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Both phenomena are a result of 'stars that have gone haywire,' the resulting gas and dust of a dying star that's exploded.
Scientists have traced the existence of stars to be hundreds of millions and billions of years old. Towards their demise, they transform into a nebula, the Latin word for mist or cloud.
NGC 6303, with its wing-like appearance, earned the name Butterfly Nebula while NGC 7027 resembles a metallic-shelled bug, the Jewel Bug. The team gained more data on both nebulas' complexities, notably the 'rapid changes in jets and gas bubbles blasting off of the stars' at their centers. '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,' said Joel Kastner of Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York.
Using near-ultraviolet and near-infrared light, the team explored the telescope's full panchromatic features. The new images are the most vivid and detailed nebulas that the Hubble has captured, allowing astronomers to track changes in space over the past few decades.
The team said that this may be indirect evidence of two companion stars merging, causing some of the rapid changes. 'The nebula NGC 7027 shows emission at an incredibly large number of different wavelengths, each of which highlights not only a specific chemical element in the nebula but also the significant, ongoing changes in its structure," said Kastner. Both the Butterfly and Jewel Bug nebulas are among the dustiest star explosions since they are newly formed.
Bruce Balick of the University of Washington said, 'the suspected companion stars in NGC 6302 and NGC 7027 haven't been directly detected because they are next to, or perhaps have already been swallowed by, larger red giant stars, a type of star that is hundreds to thousands of times brighter than the Sun.' The stars could have merged, similarly seen in other active and symmetric nebulas.
Hubble's features allow the astronomers to trace the history of the nebulas shock waves, a kind of rapid wind sweeping into gas and dust that the star ejected, creating an almost definite form of bubbles with walls. They suspect that the two stars were companions or a 'dynamic duo' because of their shape, having symmetrical patterns.
One of Hubble's camera filters, near-infrared emission, captured the Butterfly Nebula's unique 'S' shape or 'wings'. "The S-shape in the iron emission from the Butterfly Nebula is a real eye-opener," Kastner said. This is a result of collisions between fast and slow winds from the stars Balick explained. This pattern is usually seen in newborn stars and rarely in planetary nebulas.
The Jewel Bug initially looks asymmetrical, but with Hubble's near-ultraviolet filter, the astronomers saw spherical patterns. 'In some respects, the changes within this nebula are even more dramatic than those within the Butterfly," Kastner said. Something in its center must have gone 'haywire' to produce a cloverleaf-like pattern.
'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 Kastner.