A newly released image gives us a new spin on Menzel 2: a nebula located roughly 8,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Norma.
Discovered by Donald Menzel in the 1920's, the nebula has several other names, which include Hen 2-150, IRAS 16105-5449, ESO 178-15 and PK 329-02.2
This image—taken by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2)—showcases the symmetrical nature of Menzel 2, which is classified as a planetary nebula.
By definition, planetary nebulae are remnants of Sun-like stars that have reached the end of their lives. In one of the final acts, stars eject their outermost gaseous layers, which are energized by radiation streaming from the central dwarf star (eventually known as white dwarfs).
Menzel 2 differs in that it has two stars at its heart: one is believed to be the central star (the one that drives the nebula), whilst the second (lower left) is its companion. Menzel 2's whimsical appearance comes down to the fact that its blue cloud appears to perfectly align with both stars.
Their interactions almost certainly have an effect on the nebula itself, and they may delay the inevitable: the point at which the nebula stops shining, and dissipates into nothingness.
One version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by Serge Meunier. (See a larger image here)