12/10/2012 08:42 BST | Updated 11/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Nasa Unveils Startling Picture Of 'Garden-Sprinkler Nebula'

Scientists at Nasa and the European Space Agency have unveiled a startling new picture of a planetary nubula.

The picture, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, depicts one of "the most fascinating objects to behold in the night sky", Nasa said.

Its nickname? The "Garden-sprinkler Nebula".

The picture shows the gas cloud Hen 3-1475, which surrounds a dying star about 18,000 light years away from Earth.

It has two S-shaped jets of matter erupting from its polar regions. They are thought to be caused by a central source ejecting gas in massive explosions once every thousand years.

"It is like an enormous, slowly rotating garden sprinkler in the middle of the sky," Nasa said.

Planetary nubulae are so-called because of they resembled planets when seen through early telescopes. But in fact they are instead the expanding shells that surround stars about the size of our sun.

When a star dies it throws off huge amounts of material in the form of radiation, as well as the complex elements that make up new stars and planets.

They are very bright objects, because the hot core of the star still shines behind the outer shell and makes it glow.

Hen 3-1475 is a planetary nebula "in the making", Nasa said. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius, and its star is 12,000 times brighter than our own sun.