ESO’s wonderfully named Very Large Telescope has done it again, capturing some of the most detailed images ever taken of the beautiful Medusa Nebula.
Astronomers used the Chile-housed telescope to take a closer look at a star current exiting the stage, having moved from working life to retirement, before spewing its outer layers into space and creating this beautiful cloud of gas.
This image is poignant for one very clear reason, as it is showing us the ultimate fate of our very own sun, which will go through a similar blazing finale, hopefully overseen by astronomers on a planet far far away, using their own huge telescope.
This beautiful planetary nebula is named after a dreadful creature from Greek mythology – the Gorgon Medusa.
For those of you bad with names, Medusa was an ugly lady with poisonous snakes for hair. If you looked at her you turned to stone.
Indeed the snake hair is what gained this Nebula it’s odd name, represented by the “serpentine filaments of glowing gas in this nebula”, according to ESO.
The scary mythological creature is not a million miles away from the Banshee, depending on what part of Ireland you were from – I heard she screamed and if you heard her you died, while friends from elsewhere said it was actually her cry that did for you.
Anyway, this Nebula sits in the Gemini constellation, just 1,500 light-years over there (pointing).
“Despite its size it is extremely dim and hard to observe,” says ESO, which makes sense when you see this video, which pans space before finally landing on its beautiful finishing point, emerging only midway through the footage.
The red glow from hydrogen and the fainter green emission from oxygen gas extends well beyond this frame, forming a crescent shape in the sky. The ejection of mass from stars at this stage of their evolution is often intermittent, which can result in fascinating structures within planetary nebulae.
What we see is the last stage before the star making all this mess turns into a White Dwarf, no longer emitting energies that we consider impressive enough to monitor a whole lot.
It’s a small bit sad, so here’s another image of Medusa, showing its tiny insignificance in the grander scheme of things.