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Butterfly Nebula,1997.

Butterfly Nebula,1997.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 32cm x 32cm


This 'butterfly wing' shaped nebula, NGC 2346 is about 2,000 light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the constellation Monoceros. It represents the spectacular 'last gasp' of a binary star system at the nebula's centre. At the centre of the nebula lies a pair of stars that are so close together that they orbit around each other every 16 days. This is so close that, even with Hubble, the pair of stars cannot be resolved into its two components. One component of this binary is the hot core of a star has ejected most of its outer layers, producing the surrounding nebula. Astronomers believe that this star, when it evolved and expanded to become a giant red, actually swallowed its companion in an act of stellar cannibalism.

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© National Aeronautics & Space Administration / Science & Society

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