NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).
A new Hubble infrared image showing part of NGC 2174, aka the Monkey Head nebula.
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.
The bright young stars and glowing wisps of gas and dust in the image above are part of NGC 2174, the Monkey Head Nebula, located 6,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. The infrared data making up the stunning image were acquired with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument from Feb. 7-23, and released in celebration of Hubble’s 24th year in orbit.
In other words, it may be Hubble’s birthday but we all get the gift!
The fantastic shapes of the enormous cloud-like structures are the result of powerful stellar winds streaming out from the newborn stars visible along the right side of the image. Ultraviolet radiation from the stars plows into the cold banks of dust and hydrogen gas surrounding the region, causing them to glow in infrared wavelengths and carving out billowing pillars, some nearly a light-year or more in length.
Hubble had previously imaged the same area in 2001 in visible light; these new infrared observations show much more intricate details of the nebula.
The region seen here is about six light-years across and shows the “eye” of the nebula’s profiled “monkey head.” Watch a video zooming in to the region here.
Hubble was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31) on April 24, 1990 and deployed into orbit the following day. A conference is being held this week in Rome, Italy, celebrating its 24th anniversary and kicking off a year of Hubble highlights leading up to the spacecraft’s 25-year anniversary in 2015.