NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured a spectacular image of what appears to be a blue bubble floating in the depths of space. The new image reveals a bit more about a Wolf-Rayet star known a WR 31a, located about 30,000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina (the Keel).
The distinctive blue bubble appearing to encircle WR31a is a Wolf-Rayet nebula-an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases. Created when speedy stellar winds interact with the outer layers of hydrogen ejected by Wolf-Rayet stars, these nebulae are frequently ring-shaped or spherical. The bubble, which is estimated to have formed about 20,000 years ago, is expanding at a rate of about 136,700 miles per hour.
With that said, the lifecycle of a Wolf-Rayet star is only a few hundred thousand years. That's a blink of an eye in cosmic terms. Despite beginning life with a mass at least 20 times that of the sun, Wolf-Rayet stars typically lose half of their mass in less than 100,000 years; WR 31a is not exception in this case. It will, therefore, eventually end its life as a spectacular supernova. In addition, the stellar material that it expels from this cosmic explosion will nourish a new and later generation of stars and planets.
Want to see more amazing images? Check out the Hubble Space Telescope on NASA's site.
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