Hubble Spots 'Butterfly' 2K Light-Years Away

It's also known as the Twin Jet Nebula, and it's pretty
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2015 10:07 AM CDT
Hubble Spots 'Butterfly' 2K Light-Years Away
The Twin Jet Nebula, as spotted by the Hubble telescope.   (NASA/ESA)

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... a space butterfly? That's essentially what the Hubble Space Telescope has captured in a new image of the Twin Jet Nebula, a shimmering planetary nebula that strongly resembles a winged insect, reports CNET. What you're actually seeing in the image, released by the European Space Agency yesterday, is a two-winged nebula made of gas and dust, extending out from two stars, each similar in size to our sun. "The larger star is approaching the end of its days and has already ejected its outer layers of gas into space, whereas its partner is further evolved, and is a small white dwarf," the ESA says in a release. Those ejected layers of gas expand outward in both directions as the stars slowly spin 2,000 light-years away, orbiting each other about once a century, reports Mashable.

With its outer layers ejected into space, the aging star's exposed remnant core illuminates the waste, resulting in the colorful display. At the center of each wing, blue areas represent violent jets of gas gushing into space at approximately 621,000mph. Discovered in 1947 and officially known as PN M2-9, the Twin Jet Nebula gets its more common name from its shape. "If the nebula is sliced across the star, each side of it appears much like a pair of exhausts from jet engines," says the ESA. Astronomers believe the nebula is only about 1,200 years old, based on how quickly the wings are expanding, which they will continue to do. Mashable reports Hubble took a colorful shot of the nebula in 1997, but it isn't nearly as clear as this latest photo. (Hubble also captured a smiley face in space.)

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