(Photo : courtesy NASA/Chandra X-Ray Observer)
(Photo : courtesy NASA)
The orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has captured new, vivid images of the so-called "Eskimo Nebula" - during what scientists describe as its "beautiful" last phase, approximating how our own sun will appear in about 5 billion years or so in its own final days.
According to NASA, the nubula, otherwise designated as NGC 2392, is located approximately 4,200 light years from Earth and is a perfect example of the visually breath-taking dynamics that can occur after a star consumes all of the hydrogen in its core.
The star then starts to cool and expand, its radius expanding by tens to hundreds of times its original size. Eventually, the outer layers of the star are completely removed by 50,000 kilometer-per-hour winds, leaving behind nothing but a hot core that has a surface temperature of approximately 50,000 degrees Celsius.
The core continues to shedding its outer layers amid a much faster wind that NASA scientists says moves at approximately six million kilometers per hour.
The radiation from the hot star and the interplay between the various wind speeds produces the complex and filament-like shells.
A star at that stage of life is actually called a planetary nebula, although it doesn't have anything to do with planets at all; Ancient astronomers called such objects planetary nebulas, NASA explains, because the nebulas, with their layered shells of radiated matter, looked like planetary disks through optical telescopes.
Eventually, the remnant star will collapse to form a white dwarf star.
Astronomers use space-based telescopes, like Chandra or the Hubble Space Telescope, to view planetary nebulas like NGC 2392 in ways in previously-unimaginable ways.
A composite image of NGC 2392 contains purple-hued X-ray data from Chandra, revealing million-degree gas located near the center of the nebula.
Data from the Hubble Space Telescope show the intricate patterns of the outer layers of the star that have been ejected, colored in red, green, and blue.
The observations of NGC 2392 - part of a study of three planetary nebulas, all determined to contain hot gases in their centers - demonstrated the Eskimo Nebula, in fact, has unusually high levels of X-ray emissions, as compared to the other two nebulas.
That discovery has led researchers to speculate there is an unseen companion to the hot central star in NGC 2392. The interaction between binary stars could well account for the elevated X-ray emissions, scientists said.
A paper describing the study findings was published in the April 10th, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.