Skip to main content

Hubble spots beautiful planetary nebula interacting with the interstellar medium

This Hubble image shows ESO 455-10, a planetary nebula located in the constellation of Scorpius. The color image is composed of near-infrared and optical observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Four filters were used to sample various wavelengths. The color results from assigning different hues to each monochromatic image associated with an individual filter.
This Hubble image shows ESO 455-10, a planetary nebula located in the constellation of Scorpius. The color image is composed of near-infrared and optical observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Four filters were used to sample various wavelengths. The color results from assigning different hues to each monochromatic image associated with an individual filter.  NASA / ESA / Hubble / L. Stanghellini.

This week, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured yet another beautiful image of space: This time, planetary nebula ESO 455-10.

Despite their confusing name, planetary nebulae aren’t actually anything to do with planets. They were named that by early astronomers who saw vague shapes in the heavens and assumed they were planets of some kind. In fact, a planetary nebula is a shell of ionized gas.

Related Videos

When a star about the size of our sun comes to the end of its life, it throws off its outer layers which travel outward and form a shell. This shell is illuminated by the exposed core of the star, making the gas glow brightly. This is the planetary nebula.

But these lovely formations last only a relatively short time — a period in the tens of thousands of years — before dissipating.

This particular planetary nebula is of interest because of the way it interacts with the mostly empty space around it, called the interstellar medium.

“The oblate shells of ESO 455-10, previously held tightly together as layers of its central star, not only give this planetary nebula its unique appearance, but also offer information about the nebula,” NASA wrote in a post. “Seen in a field of stars, the distinct asymmetrical arc of material over the north side of the nebula is a clear sign of interactions between ESO 455-10 and the interstellar medium.”

Planetary nebulae interact with the interstellar medium by throwing off heavy elements like metals which are originally produced inside stars. These elements are seeded into the interstellar medium by the planetary nebulae, which helps to create the building blocks for new stars that will eventually be born.

Editors' Recommendations

Hubble sees the dramatic collision of NASA’s DART spacecraft and an asteroid
These three panels capture the breakup of the asteroid Dimorphos when it was deliberately hit by NASA's 1,200-pound Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission spacecraft on September 26, 2022. Hubble Space Telescope had a ringside view of the space demolition derby.

Last year NASA tested out a new method for defending the planet from incoming objects by crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. Recently, further analysis of data from the impact has shown more about what occurred during and after the impact, and how effective it was at changing the orbit of the asteroid.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a series of images showing the aftermath of the impact, which have been put together into a video showing the bright flash of the impact and the emerging plume of material sent up from the asteroid:

Read more
An enormous galaxy cluster warps spacetime in this Hubble image
A massive galaxy cluster in the constellation Cetus dominates the centre of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This image is populated with a serene collection of elliptical and spiral galaxies, but galaxies surrounding the central cluster — which is named SPT-CL J0019-2026 — appear stretched into bright arcs, as if distorted by a gargantuan magnifying glass. This cosmic contortion is called gravitational lensing, and it occurs when a massive object like a galaxy cluster has a sufficiently powerful gravitational field to distort and magnify the light from background objects.

Every week, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope share an image from this beloved piece of space technology, and this week's image shows a vital astronomical phenomenon in action. While space telescopes can observe very far-off objects if they are bright enough, there is still a lot of the universe that is too far away to observe -- which is why researchers make use of a natural occurrence called gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing happens when an object like a galaxy or galaxy cluster has so much mass that it noticeably warps spacetime. Everything with mass bends spacetime somewhat, but usually this effect is so small as to be effectively invisible. But when the object is something with as much mass as a large galaxy or even a collection of galaxies, then this warping can be significant enough for us to observe it.

Read more
James Webb spots ‘universe-breaking’ massive early galaxies
Images of six candidate massive galaxies, seen 500-700 million years after the Big Bang. One of the sources (bottom left) could contain as many stars as our present-day Milky Way, according to researchers, but it is 30 times more compact.

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to throw up surprises, and recently it has been used to spot some very old galaxies which have astonished astronomers. The galaxy candidates are far more massive than anyone expected would be possible, challenging assumptions about the early universe.

An international team of astronomers spotted six potential galaxies in a region of space close to the Big Dipper constellation from just 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was still in its infancy. “These objects are way more massive​ than anyone expected,” said one of the researchers, Joel Leja of Penn State. “We expected only to find tiny, young, baby galaxies at this point in time, but we’ve discovered galaxies as mature as our own in what was previously understood to be the dawn of the universe.”

Read more