Hubble Telescope Captures Shimmering, Cosmic Butterfly in New Image

Looking like a butterfly unfolding its wings, this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the Twin Jet Nebula and its knots of expanding gas in awesome detail. Many planetary nebulas, which represent one of the last stellar evolutionary stages of life for a sun-sized star, are composed of just one star, but this nebula has two seen shining bright at the center of the image.


The M on this identify refers to Rudolph Minkowski, a German-American astronomer who found the nebula in 1947.

The nebula, also called PN M2-9, is not new to science.

Hubble is a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and its space-based component was launched in 1990. It looks like a butterfly unfolding its wings but actually it’s the expanding, glowing shells of gas which are indicating that an old star is dying. Ordinary planetary nebulae have one star at their center.

It is believed the Twin Jet Nebula’s wings are created by the movement of the two central stars. It formed around 1,200 years ago, which makes it quite young, and sits at a distance of about 2,100 light-years from our planet. Inside these lobes, two quick moving clouds are streaming at the speed of more than 1 million km/hr.

Astronomers hypothesize the white dwarf orbits its partner star, pulling the ejected gas from the dying star in two directions, rather than expanding in a uniform sphere, according to the ESA. This can be a phenomenon that’s one other effect of the binary system on the coronary heart of the nebula. These jets slowly change their orientation, precessing across the lobes as they are pulled by the wayward gravity of the binary system.

NASA says that the reason behind the winged shape structure is because of the motion of the two central stars around each other.

How big is the Twin Jet Nebula? This rotation not only creates the wings of the butterfly and the two jets, but also allows the white dwarf to strip gas from its larger companion, which then forms a large disk of material around the stars, extending out as far as 15 times the orbit of Pluto.


Contestant Judy Schmidt submitted a version of this image to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition.

Cosmic Butterfly