Image Credit: Bruce Balick (U. Washington) et al., HST, NASA


For a sun-like star; after a long and tumultuous inner battle, a time comes when the star is no longer able to act as a fusion reactor, causing the imminent death of the star. This process can be violent and grueling, but the after effects are generally very beautiful. (Which is clearly the case with this celestial region, designated as a planetary nebula.)


NGC 3242, as it’s called (also known as the Ghost of Jupiter), is located some 1,400 light-years away from our humble abode toward the constellation of Hydra. No other nebula of the same kind is more effective in understanding where the term “planetary nebulae” came from (the name was given by William Herschel, who also discovered the nebula), as this object does look eeirly similar in shape to a planet (as seem through a moderate telescope, of course).


The nebula at infrared wavelengths (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

Located in the center of the nebula is the last remaining remnant of the now-defunct star, known as a white-dwarf. This dense stellar core is approximately the same size as the Earth, with approximately the same mass as the sun! Over the next several million years, the dwarf will begin to cool and the nebula will eventually dissipate, taking with it the last tangible evidence of the star’s existence.

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