Forget the butterflies in your stomach, this one is in space. OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a deformed butterfly, but the image of what is popularly known as the Twin Jet Nebula captured by the ever so reliable Hubble Space Telescope is just as beautiful, exhibiting a grand display of colors. But almost like a real butterfly whose existence signals its impeding death, this delightful show is really the dying breath of an old star, as if giving the universe one last light show before it kicks the cosmic bucket.
PN M2-9 is such a boring, highly scientific name for something so rare. Which is probably why it was dubbed Twin Jet Nebula for laymen instead. The “PN” stands for “Planetary Nebula”, but as is evidenced by its shape, it isn’t an ordinary one. It is what is called a bipolar nebula, not because it has a mental condition. Unlike a regular nebula, bipolar ones have two stars in the center, at least in a binary star system. Sadly, in the case of the PN M2-9, one of those two stars is dying.
The larger of the two stars, which is believed to be 1.0 to 1.6 times the solar mass of our own Sun, is approaching its end days, or centuries if you count in human years. It has already ejected its outer layers of gas. Its exposed core is the one that is shining a bright light on these gases, producing the colorful light show.
The unusual shape of the gases, technically two lobes, are caused by the smaller companion star, which has already evolved into a white dwarf, basically the corpse of a dead star. This companion is believed to be revolving around the larger star which causes the gas being ejected to form into lobes rather than the normal sphere or most nebulae.
And while these wings might be awe-inspiring, try not to imagine getting close (as if that were technically possible anyway). It isn’t called “Twin Jet” for nothing. These lobes are actually streaming jets of gas, where the bluest parts are the fastest, streaming at unimaginable speeds of 1 million km/h. Now that’s one deadly, dying space butterfly.
SOURCE: European Space Agency