The US space agency NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope has beamed back stunning photo of what looks like a colourful ornament in space. It’s actually an image of NGC 6326, a planetary nebula with glowing wisps of outpouring gas that are lit up by a central star nearing the end of its life. The incredible looking nebula is located 11,000 light-years from the Earth in the constellation of Ara, the Altar.
Scientists at NASA explained that a star starts to eject layers of gas from its surface leaving behind a hot and compact white dwarf when it ages and the red giant phase of its life comes to an end. Sometimes this ejection results in elegantly symmetric patterns of glowing gas, but NGC 6326 is much less structured.
Planetary nebulae are one of the main ways in which elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are dispersed into space after their creation in the hearts of stars. Eventually, some of this out-flung material may form new stars and planets.
The incredible shot was captured by using Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The vivid blue and red hues come from material including ionized oxygen and hydrogen glowing under the action of the fierce ultraviolet radiation from the still hot central star.
Moreover, the Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.
The Hubble space telescope was launched in 1990 and since then it is the largest telescope in space. HST has helped scientists in exploring the deepest corners of the universe and has beamed back millions of stunning shots in its entire career. However, HST will be replaced by the James Webb Telescope in 2018 as it has thrice larger lens when compared to HST.