The Twin Jet Nebula (Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

Planetary nebulae, which come together following the death of medium-mass stars (roughly equivalent to the Sun in mass, sometimes a bit heavier), are often expansive, but rarely are they this exquisitely detailed. Called the Twin Jet Nebula (otherwise known as Minkowski 2-9, M2-9, Minkowski's Butterfly, PN M2-9, or the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula), it can be found approximately 2,100 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Ophiuchus.

In a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope, the structure of the Twin Jet Nebula is expressed in unprecedented resolution. The colors are also stunningly vivid, helping highlight the nebula's key features—especially the intricate shells, and the knots of gas that continue to expand outward from the source (or sources, rather): one dying star, and a dense body called a white dwarf. Though small, the dwarf star remains incredibly hot and energetic, which provides the nebula with the proverbial match it needs to ignite.

The jet itself is bipolar, which is an unusual feature in and of itself, though its far from unique.

Some of these planetary nebulae exhibit bipolar structures (Image Credit: NASA, ESA; Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington)

Basically, astronomers believe that the orbital mechanics between the pair—one weighs between 0.6 to 1.0 solar masses, while the other weighs as much 1.0 to 1.4 solar masses—has sculpted the gaseous material into bipolar, or two-lobed, outflows. Moreover, the gas is hurtling through space at speeds exceeding 621,371 miles (one million km) per hour.

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