Although it looks like an alien Cyclops, this is a Hubble Space Telescope view of the Eskimo Nebula, the last gasp of a dying star. The star has expelled its outer layers into space, forming what looks a furry hood around a face. Streaks of material radiate away from the center of the nebula like skinny fingers, with smaller blobs around them. [NASA/Andrew Fruchter (STScI)]
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Seen through a telescope, the nebula NGC 2392 looks like a face inside a furry parka. That appearance earned it a nickname: the Eskimo Nebula. A detailed look from Hubble Space Telescope, though, shows that the parka’s hood isn’t so much fuzzy as knotty. Streaks of material radiate away from the center of the nebula like skinny fingers, with smaller blobs around them.
The nebula is the final gasp of a dying star. Nuclear reactions have shut down in the star’s core, and the layers of gas outside the core are streaming off into space. But the stream is lumpy.
Astronomers are still trying to understand these lumps. They’re seen in many similar nebulae, suggesting that they’re a normal part of a star’s final phase of life.
The leading idea says the dying star originally shed much of its gas from its equator, forming a disk of material around the star’s waist. Later, the star began expelling gas from across its entire surface as a high-speed “wind.” As the wind hit the earlier material, it sculpted it into knots that are several times bigger than our entire solar system. Material streaming around the dense knots forms the glowing fingers — the fuzzy “parka” around the nebula’s face.
The Eskimo Nebula is in the constellation Gemini, the twins, which climbs into good view in the east by about 9 o’clock. The gibbous Moon rises directly below the twins late this evening, and follows them across the sky for the rest of the night.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015