Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA (Acknowledgement: Matej Novak)

This new image from NASA/ESA features NGC 6153: a planetary nebula located approximately 4,000 light-years from Earth toward the Scorpius constellation.

Planetary nebulae form once stars similar in mass to the Sun move beyond main sequence, into post main-sequence life--a phase that begins when a star burns through all of its hydrogen, resorting to using helium for nuclear fusion. The star blooms in size, contracts and ultimately sheds its gaseous envelope, which goes on to form the nebula's backbone.

The star—now a shell of its former self (literally)—does the rest; Despite being around the size of Earth (with roughly the mass of the Sun), this small object is extremely hot and very energetic. So much, in fact, that it ionizes the gas, which gives it the characteristic glow of nebulae.

Nebulae of this type (and all others) come in different packages. As noted by researchers, NGC 6153 is "elliptical in shape, with an extremely rich network of loops and filaments, shown clearly in this Hubble image. However, this is not what makes this planetary nebula so interesting for astronomers." They continue:

"Measurements show that NGC 6153 contains large amounts of neon, argon, oxygen, carbon and chlorine—up to three times more than can be found in the Solar System. The nebula contains a whopping five times more nitrogen than the Sun! Although it may be that the star developed higher levels of these elements as it grew and evolved, it is more likely that the star originally formed from a cloud of material that already contained lots more of these elements."

See a larger image here.


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