Hubble snaps death of colourful star in the Rotten Egg Nebula

6 Feb 201711 Shares

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The Calabash Nebula, otherwise known as the Rotten Egg Nebula. Its technical name is OH 231.8+04.2. Image: ESA/Hubble and NASA.

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NASA’s Hubble Telescope has been monitoring the Rotten Egg Nebula, and the death of one of its stars over 5,000 light years away.

In 1,000 years, a star in the Calabash Nebula, otherwise known as Rotten Egg Nebula, will finish its spectacular transformation.

Hubble Rotten Egg

Once a low-mass star, much like our sun, it is in the process of dying off. What will remain afterwards will be a fully fledged planetary nebula. The importance behind this is that we can see these early stages, which are an astronomical rarity.

Situated over 5,000 light years away, the Rotten Egg Nebula is what NASA calls a “spectacular example” of the death of a low-mass star.

Hubble, operated by NASA and ESA, has been monitoring it for a while now, as a rapid transformation ensues that sees it change from a red giant to a planetary nebula, during which it blows its outer layers of gas and dust into the surrounding space.

The Clabalash Nebula, otherwise known as the Rotten Egg Nebula. Its technical name is OH 231.8+04.2. Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA.

The Calabash Nebula, otherwise known as the Rotten Egg Nebula. Its technical name is OH 231.8+04.2. Image: ESA/Hubble and NASA.

The recently ejected material is spat out in opposite directions with immense speed. The gas shown above in yellow is moving at a speed close to 1m kph.

NASA claims this 1,000-year process is rarely captured due to it occurring “within the blink of an eye, in astronomical terms”.

It is known as the Rotten Egg Nebula because it contains a lot of sulphur, an element that, when combined with other elements, smells like a rotten egg.

In December, Hubble revealed stunning imagery of NGC 248, in the southern constellation Tucana. Housed in a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud 200,000 light years away, they are lit up red. This is thanks to intense radiation from “the brilliant central stars”, which heat up hydrogen in each nebula.

NGC 248 data was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Image: NASA, ESA, STScI, K Sandstrom (University of California, San Diego) and the SMIDGE team

NGC 248 data was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Image: NASA, ESA, STScI, K Sandstrom (University of California, San Diego) and the SMIDGE team

NGC 248 is of interest to scientists because it’s in a galaxy that has as little as 10pc of the amount of heavy elements our Milky Way enjoys, making it a curious area to investigate.

Because it is so close, astronomers can study its dust in great detail, and learn about what dust was like earlier in the history of the universe.

Last week, a 2bn-pixel image from the ESO, one of its largest ever released, showed two distant nebulas – Cat’s Paw and Lobster – in all their explosive glory.

Situated in the Scorpius constellation, the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) and Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357) rest 5,500 and 8,000 light years respectively from Earth.

The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334, upper right) and the Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357, lower left). These dramatic objects are regions of active star formation where the hot young stars are causing the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow red. A zoomable version of this giant image is available here. Image: ESO

The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334, upper right) and the Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357, lower left). These dramatic objects are regions of active star formation where the hot young stars are causing the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow red. A zoomable version of this giant image is available here. Image: ESO

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

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