Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/Digitized Sky Survey/STScI

We often share stunning images of stellar nebulae, which can be created in several different ways; generally following the destruction of a star. This is no different, but it is a unique (not to mention, lovely) example of a planetary nebula.

Nebulae of this type are created by a sun-like star that has consumed  all the materials needed to fuse light elements into heavier ones. As the star nears the end of its 10 billion year main-sequence life-span, the star will begin to fuse helium, which causes the star's size to bloat tremendously. Eventually, the outer layers peel off into the interstellar medium, whilst the core contracts into a white dwarf. The material will then begin to twist and turn into intricate, unpredictable shapes. Some of these mimic butterflies; eyes; animals and even inanimate objects.

This particular planetary nebula, formally known as NGC 1514 (or sometimes referred to as the Crystal Ball Nebula), is centered around not one, but two, dying stars. Both can clearly be seen in the image on the right and left, but at optical wavelengths, we can't directly image the inner structure of the nebula. However, we can take a close look at the area at multiple wavelengths, something that is particularly useful with infrared.

As you can see in the image on the right, NGC 1514 is encased in a series of rings... something that is a rarity with planetary nebulae. The team from WISE believes the rings are comprised of dust that was ejected by the central stars. Said dust then mingled with the surrounding material, while it was being carved into a cavity by stellar winds.

The pair, and the accompanying nebula, are located about 800 light years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus.

Download a larger image here.

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