Image Credit: ESO

This intriguing celestial jewel can be found a substantial 3,300 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Scutum. Known for its remarkable green glow, the object—dubbed IC 1295—is a planetary nebula by designation.

Like all planetary nebulae, this structure was born of death—the death of a star roughly the same size as the Sun. Once it reached the end of its stellar lifespan, it started fusing helium in place of hydrogen, which caused the star to bloom in size. Ultimately, when all was said and done, the star ejected what remained of its gaseous envelope, leaving the star itself concentrated in a hot, dense ball approximately the size of Earth, with the mass of the Sun (a "white dwarf").

Even after a protigener star makes the transition, it still has some life left in it, and this residual energy is known to energize the surrounding gas to such a degree that it becomes ionized. This ionization manifests in a whole host of different colors—sometimes corresponding to composition—with the gas contorting into many different, elaborate shapes.

This image, taken by the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), is the most detailed version to date; it clearly shows many of IC 1295's unusual features. From the ESO:

See a larger image here.


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