Toby Jug

TobyJugThis is the reflection nebula IC 2220 (aka the Toby Jug Nebula). It’s about 1200 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina (The Ship’s Keel). It’s a cloud of gas and dust illuminated from within by a red giant star. The nebula was created by the star losing part of its mass to the surrounding space, forming a cloud of gas and dust as the matter cools. The dust consists of elements such as carbon and simple, heat-resistant compounds such as titanium dioxide and calcium oxide (lime) and, in the case of this nebula, silicon dioxide (silica) as the most likely compound reflecting the star’s light. IC 2220 is visible because the star’s light is reflected off the grains of dust.

Red giants are formed from stars that are approaching the final stages of their evolution. These stars have almost depleted their hydrogen, the fuel for the nuclear reactions that occur during most of the life of a star. This causes the atmosphere of the star to expand enormously. Red giants are powered by fusion reactions in a shell of helium outside a carbon-oxygen core, occasionally accompanied by a hydrogen shell closer to the star’s surface.

Image Credit: ESO Cosmic Gems Programme