Going Out with a Bang

ngc2392_2NGC 2392 is the remains of a star similar to our Sun located about 4,200 light years from Earth. AKA the Eskimo Nebula, it is what astronomers call a planetary nebula. Planetary nebulas actually have nothing to do with planets. The term is leftover from when these objects looked like planetary disks to astronomers using small optical telescopes.

Planetary nebulas form when a star has used up all of the hydrogen in its core, an event roughly 5 billion years off for the Sun. When that happens, the star begins to cool off and puff outward, increasing to tens or hundreds of times its original diameter. Eventually, the star’s outer layers are whisked away by a strong solar wind moving at tens of thousand of km per hour, leaving the hot core with a surface temperature on the order of 50,000 °C. The core then begins throwing off its outer layers in an even faster wind a speed in the millions of km per hour. The radiation from the hot star and the interaction of its fast wind with the slower wind creates the complex shell of a planetary nebula. In the end, the remnant star will collapse to become a white dwarf.

This composite image of NGC 2392 contains X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple showing the location of million-degree gas near the center of the planetary nebula. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope (colored red, green, and blue) show the outer layers ejected from the star. The filament-like structures form when the faster wind and radiation from the central star interact with cooler dust and gas earlier ejected from the star.

Image Credit: NASA

Eskimo Nebula

In 1787, English astronomer William Herschel discovered the Eskimo Nebula (aka, NGC 2392). From the ground, the nebula resembles someone’s head in a parka hood; hence, the name. The picture above was made by Hubble in 2000. Seen from orbit, the nebula’s gas clouds are complex, so complex they are not fully understood. The Eskimo Nebula is a planetary nebula, and it’s gas cloud came from the outer layers of a Sun-like star only about 10,000 years ago. The inner filaments seen in the picture are being ejected by a strong wind of particles from that central star. The Eskimo Nebula spans about 1/3 of a light year and is about 3,000 light years distant in the constellation Gemini.

Image Credit: NASA