Image Credit: ESO

This new image from the ESO is so stunning, it almost looks like abstract artwork, or an artistic rendering, but no, it, in fact, is 100% real, taken of a nebula located approximately 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Gemini.

Called the Medusa Nebula (otherwise known Abell 21 or Sharpless 2-274), we are seeing this nebular region at a time in which the central star has begun adjusting to life (or death) after the main-sequence phase of stellar evolution, which generally lasts around 10 billion years for Sun-like stars.

The transition begins with a medium-mass star (not unlike our own parent star) exhausts the remainder of hydrogen fuel forged in its core, which forces it to start using its backup reservoir of helium—at which point, the star begins to grow exponentially larger in size, until its diameter is hundreds of times larger than normal. Ultimately, it shrinks back down to size, the core contracts, and the star finally sheds whatever gas that remains—leaving a colorful nebula behind.

These structures, formally called planetary nebulae, come in many different shapes, sizes and colors. This is but one beautiful, and complex example. More from the ESO:

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