Nasa/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope has demonstrated its imaging capabilities with two new images of the Planetary Nebula. These images depict two nearby young planetary nebulae, known as NGC 6302 and NGC 7027. The former is also known as the Butterfly Nebula.
Both nebulae are among the most dust-rich planetary nebulae and contain unusually large gas masses. When scientists studied the two nebulae, they found that the bubbles and jet gases at the center of each nebula blasted away from the star, with unprecedented complexity and speed of change. Hubble is trying to help scientists understand the chaos mechanisms seen in the two images.
Hubble has previously photographed the two nebulae, but these images were taken years ago, and they were never imaged by the Wide Area Camera 3 instrument in its full wavelength range. The instrument, which makes observations in near-ultraviolet to near-infrared light, now has the most comprehensive view of the two nebulae to date.
The researchers say the images show in vivid detail how the two are tearing themselves apart on very short time scales, with astronomers able to see changes over the past few decades. These images are helping researchers trace the history of shock waves inside the nebula. Scientists believe that the core of each nebula is two stars orbiting each other.
The strange shape of each nebula suggests a pair of stars in a binary system. In such a system, the orbits between the stars are so tight that they eventually interact to create a cast disk around one or two stars. The disc then emits a jet, causing the gas to crack and expand along the pole. Scientists have been unable to observe the suspected companion stars in these nebulae. The researchers believe this may be because these stars are next to or have been swallowed up by larger, brighter red giants.