Nebulae are some of the most eye-catching phenomena in the cosmos. The glorious clouds of gas take on familiar shapes, from ato a , and a new image of planetary nebula NGC 2899 adds a gorgeous butterfly to this space menagerie.
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile captured the nebula view with its high-resolution FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph instrument, aka FORS.
The effort is part of the ESO’s Cosmic Gems program, which focuses on “images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects.” NGC 2899 ticks all of those boxes.
The bluer parts of the nebula highlight oxygen gas while the redder parts show hydrogen gas.
The distinctive butterfly look comes from two stars at the center of nebula. “After one star reached the end of its life and cast off its outer layers, the other star now interferes with the flow of gas, forming the two-lobed shape seen here,” said ESO in a release on Thursday.
NGC 2899 dwells between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away. The gases stretch out as far as 2 light-years from the center. ESI estimates that only 10% to 20% of planetary nebulae have this unusual bipolar shape.
For more two-lobed nebulae, check out theand NG 6302, sometimes called the . These cosmic rarities showcase the visual wonders of space and how the death of stars can lead to great beauty.