Science

The Hubble telescope detects a complex cloud of gas expanding into space

This serene gas cloud hides much activity deep within the nebula.

NGC 6891 glows brightly in a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope, as the observatory helps scientists learn more about how these gas clouds formed and evolved.

Astronomers call NGC 6891 a “planetary nebula,” a term that stems from an ancient misidentification with the planets when telescope technology was in its infancy. Today we know that these types of nebulae form after supernova explosions that see huge stars spewing gas. A white dwarf remnant of the star remains behind, slowly cooling.

Related: Best Hubble Space Telescope Images Ever!

The planetary nebula NGC 6891 glows in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope.  Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Hajian (University of Waterloo), H. Bond (Pennsylvania State University) and B. Balick (University of Washington);  Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA / Catholic University of America)

The planetary nebula NGC 6891 glows in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, A. Hajian (University of Waterloo), H. Bond (Pennsylvania State University), and B. Balick (University of Washington); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA / Catholic University of America) )

High-definition images from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed knots and filaments wrapped around the white dwarf embedded deep within the cloud. The data also shows that the outer halo of gas is expanding faster than the innermost part of the nebula, and the observations even capture layers of gas that are oriented in different directions.

“From their movements, astronomers estimate that one of the shells is 4,800 years old, while the outer halo is about 28,000 years old, indicating a series of outbursts from the dying star at different times,” NASA officials wrote. it’s a statement.

The glow of NGC 6891 occurs when white dwarf stars ionize, or remove electrons, from the surrounding hydrogen gas.

“As energized electrons return from their higher-energy state to a lower-energy state by recombining with hydrogen nuclei, they emit energy in the form of light, causing the gas in the nebula to glow,” NASA said. .

Hubble is currently recovering from a timing failure that occurred on October 23, and its instruments are slowly coming back online. Hubble was last reviewed in person in 2009 and with the retirement of the space shuttle, it is no longer accessible to astronauts. That said, the 31-year-old telescope has a lot of archival data to process.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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