Jupiter’s Ghost. It sounds like a terrible sci-fi film, or a portent of something awful occurring in the solar system.
It’s neither. In fact it’s just the latest in a long tradition of astronomers giving cool names to amazing photos of strange, complex phenomena.
This picture, released by the European Space Agency, shows what happens when stars roughly the same size as our sun end their lives.
Instead of going supernova in a giant explosion, these suns (from 0.8 to 8 times the mass of ours) “puff up” (that’s the technical term) and peacefully throw off their outer layers.
Known, confusingly, as planetary nebulas, even though they have nothing to do with planets, they are indeed beautiful.
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This one, discovered in the late 19th century and called NGC 3242 is even more confusing, since it’s named ‘Jupiter’s Ghost’ while having nothing to do with Jupiter, other than occupying about the same amount of sky as the planet. It’s actually located 3,000 light years away.
“The image reveals how mighty winds released by the dying star – the white dwarf star at the centre – are shaping the double-shell structure of the nebula. The blue glow filling the inner bubble represents X-ray emission from hot gas, heated up to over two million degrees by shocks in the fast stellar winds, gusting at about 2400 km/s against the ambient gas.
The green glow marks cooler concentrations of gas seen in optical light through the emission of oxygen, revealing the edge of the inner shell in contrast to the more diffuse gas making up the outer shell. The two flame-shaped features, visible in red to the upper right and lower left of the inner bubble, are pockets of even cooler gas, seen also in optical light through the emission of nitrogen.”
The picture combines data from the Xray SA’s XMM-Newton telescope and Hubble.