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Stunning Space Butterfly Captured by ESO Telescope

Image: This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. Credit: ESO


SulutPos.com, Garching bei München, Germany – NGC 2899’s vast swathes of gas extend up to a maximum of two light-years from its centre, glowing brightly in front of the stars of the Milky Way as the gas reaches temperatures upwards of ten thousand degrees. The high temperatures are due to the large amount of radiation from the nebula’s parent star, which causes the hydrogen gas in the nebula to glow in a reddish halo around the oxygen gas, in blue.

NGC 2899 in the constellation of Vela. This chart shows the location of the planetary nebula NGC 2899 in the constellation of Vela (The Sails). The map includes most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions, and the location of the nebula is indicated by a red circle. Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope
NGC 2899 in the constellation of Vela. This chart shows the location of the planetary nebula NGC 2899 in the constellation of Vela (The Sails). The map includes most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions, and the location of the nebula is indicated by a red circle.
Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

This object, located between 3000 and 6500 light-years away in the Southern constellation of Vela (The Sails), has two central stars, which are believed to give it its nearly symmetric appearance. After one star reached the end of its life and cast off its outer layers, the other star now interferes with the flow of gas, forming the two-lobed shape seen here. Only about 10–20% of planetary nebulae [1] display this type of bipolar shape.

The sky around NGC 2899. This image shows the sky around the location of NGC 2899, which is visible at the very centre of the frame. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin
The sky around NGC 2899. This image shows the sky around the location of NGC 2899, which is visible at the very centre of the frame. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2.
Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

Astronomers were able to capture this highly detailed image of NGC 2899 using the FORS instrument installed on UT1 (Antu), one of the four 8.2-metre telescopes that make up ESO’s VLT in Chile. Standing for FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph, this high-resolution instrument was one of the first to be installed on ESO’s VLT and is behind numerous beautiful images and discoveries from ESO. FORS has contributed to observations of light from a gravitational wave source, has researched the first known interstellar asteroid, and has been used to study in depth the physics behind the formation of complex planetary nebulae.

This image was created under the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

ESOcast 227 Light: Stunning Space Butterfly Captured by ESO Telescope

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