Photo of the Day

image of a twin jet nebula, which looks like a shimmering butterfly in outer space
The Twin Jet Nebula, a bipolar planetary nebula. (Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Rachel Feltman at the WaPo:
This "butterfly" (which also kind of looks like two space squid head butting each other, if you're as into that as I am) is called the Twin Jet Nebula. Those gorgeous, iridescent colors come from dying stars within, casting out jets of gas and then illuminating the resulting clouds with their fading light.

The Twin Jet is a planetary nebula—so named for their usual round shape—but it's obviously not very spherical. Scientists believe that it gets its wings from the pair of stars at its center. The binary system includes two stars around the same size as our sun. One is already a white dwarf—the final stage of such a star's life—and the other is following close behind.

While only one star is giving off gases, the way the stars interact with each other (gravitationally speaking) causes the gas to spew out in two directions. The gas can travel more than 600,000 miles per hour, and the wings (which probably only formed about 1200 years ago) will continue to grow.

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