NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
In a discovery announced on Sept. 4, 2013, a population of planetary nebulae near the galactic core appear to be, weirdly, preferentially aligned to the Milky Way's galactic plain. The nebulae, known as "bipolar" (or "butterfly") planetary nebulae are completely non-interacting and of various ages, suggesting some external force is shaping their orientation. It's thought that a powerful magnetic field may be the culprit.
The researchers used observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's New Technology Telescope, so here are a small selection of some stunning examples of bipolar planetary nebulae as seen through the eye of Hubble. Shown here is the stunning NGC 6302 -- an intricate example of a bipolar planetary nebula's butterfly wings.
Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Garrelt Mellema (Stockholm University), and NASA/ESA
Hubble 5: A classically-shaped bipolar (or 'butterfly') planetary nebula.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
NGC 6881: A binary star possibly shapes this wonderfully symmetrical nebula.
NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
NGC 5189: A dramatic view of the ribbons of bright material being ejected from a planetary nebula.
This thick cloud of dust and gas may look like a dark and foreboding corner of our galaxy, but it is actually a region of star birth that exhibits a smorgasbord of stellar phenomena.
One of the more fascinating objects is the star in the center of the frame that appears to be sitting atop a column of smokey material. This is in fact a young stellar object (YSO) — basically a star’s embryo — that is slowly forming from the collapsing gas in its nebula. Called SSTC2D J033038.2+303212, this object has a disk of material seen edge-on that it continues to form from. The YSO seems to be generating its own hot jets of gas that light up the top of the dark nebulous column.
Below the YSO, however, there’s a huge, glowing ball of gas that brightens the scene. This is a reflection nebula — dust and gas that is lit up by numerous bright baby stars cocooned within — called [B77] 63.
Yet amongst the bright stellar birth is the pitch black object that seems to trail from [B77] 63. This dark nebula is called Dobashi 4173 and it blocks all light from any stars it may contain. The stars that overlay the nebula are actually foreground stars between us and Dobashi 4173.
This dramatic view was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) that views the cosmos in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared light.