Celestial Jewelry

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a fascinating image of a planetary nebula known as the Necklace Nebula.

Necklace Nebula - Courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope site

Planetary nebula are the remains of a star like our Sun as it goes through the final stages of its life expanding and blowing off its outer layers.  The bright blobs embedded in the nebula are areas of gas that are energized by ultraviolet light from the star at the center.  The blue-green color of the nebula reflects the hydrogen and oxygen present, with red indicating nitrogen.  The Necklace Nebula lies about 15,000 light years from us and is located in the constellation Sagitta.

It’s interesting to compare this planetary nebula with the remains of the supernova 1987a:

Supernova 1987a - Image courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope

     Another piece of cosmic jewelry, but one made from a very different process and from a star that was much larger than our Sun. The supernova is the foundry that produces all the heavy metals we have today, from the iron in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells to the gold and silver in the jewelry you may be wearing right now.

     Both of these nebulae are still evolving, and as time passes they will continue to evolve into new shapes, and eventually (10s to 100s of thousands of years) they will fade from view.  But, their remains will fuel the next generation of stars and planets in the cosmos.

Till next time,

RC Davison

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