Looking Back at Us?


This is the planetary nebula NGC 3918, a brilliant cloud of colorful gas in the constellation of Centaurus, roughly 4,900 light-years from Earth. In the center of the cloud of gas lies a tiny star, the dying remnant of a red giant. When such a star dies, huge clouds of gas are ejected from its surface before collapses to become a white dwarf. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the tiny remnant star causes the surrounding gas cloud to glow.

NGC 3918 has a distinctive eye-like shape with a bright inner shell of gas and a more diffuse outer shell that extends far from the nebula and looks as if it could be the result of two separate irruptions of gas. However, studies of the object suggest that the two cloud components were formed at the same time but are being blown from the star at different speeds. The powerful jets of gas emerging from the ends of the large structure are estimated to be shooting away from the star at speeds of up to 350,000 km/h/

Image Credit: ESA / NASA

NGC 6153


A nitrogen-rich nebula This is NGC 6153. The faint blue haze is what remains of a star like the sun after it had depleted most of its fuel. When that happened, the outer layers of the star were ejected and then ionized by the ultraviolet light from hot core of the star, forming the nebula.

NGC 6153 is a planetary nebula which contains large amounts of neon, argon, oxygen, carbon and chlorine—up to three times more than can be found in our solar system. It contains five times more nitrogen than our sun! It could be that the star developed higher levels of these elements as it grew and evolved, but it is more likely that the star originally formed from a cloud of material that already contained an abundance of those elements.

Image Credit: ESA / NASA

NCG 6153


A nitrogen-rich nebula This is NGC 6153. The faint blue haze is what remains of a star like the sun after it had depleted most of its fuel. When that happened, the outer layers of the star were ejected and then ionized by the ultraviolet light from hot core of the star, forming the nebula.

NGC 6153 is a planetary nebula which contains large amounts of neon, argon, oxygen, carbon and chlorine—up to three times more than can be found in our solar system. It contains five times more nitrogen than our sun! It could be that the star developed higher levels of these elements as it grew and evolved, but it is more likely that the star originally formed from a cloud of material that already contained an abundance of those elements.

Image Credit: ESA / NASA

NGC 7027


NGC 7027 is a very young (only about 600 years old) and dense planetary nebula located roughly 3,000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. NGC 7027 is one of the visually brightest planetary nebulae. In a 6-in telescope at 50x it appears as a relatively bright bluish star. At magnifications around 180x it has a vaguely ursine shape which has led to the nickname “Gummy Bear Nebula”. It is best viewed with the highest magnification possible. This image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image Credit: NASA

The Little Ghost Nebula


NGC 6369 is a planetary nebula also known as the Little Ghost Nebula. Planetary nebulae aren’t related to planets. They’re gaseous shrouds created at the end of a Sun-like star’s life as the dying star’s outer layers expand while its core shrinks to become a white dwarf. The white dwarf radiates strongly at ultraviolet wavelengths, powering the expanding nebula’s glow. NGC 636’s main round structure is about a light-year across, and the glow from its ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms are colored blue, green, and red respectively. The Little Ghost Nebula offers a glimpse of the likely fate of our Sun which could produce its own planetary nebula about 5 billion years from now.

Image Credit: NASA