Hubble Telescope shows cosmic holiday ornament [BIG PICTURE]

First Posted: Dec 26, 2012 02:07 PM EST

Hubble Space Telescope is bringing its own merry and festive images to the holiday season. Its greetings include an image of a massive erupting planetary nebulae that represents the final brief stage in the life of a medium-sized star like our sun.

NASA explains the image as a dying star "consuming the last of the fuel in its core, while expelling a large portion of its outer envelope. This material then becomes heated by the radiation from the stellar remnant and radiates, producing glowing clouds of gas that can show complex structures, as the ejection of mass from the star is uneven in both time and direction."

A spectacular example of this beautiful complexity is seen in the bluish lobes of NGC 5189. As a result of the mass-loss process, the planetary nebula has been created with two nested structures, tilted with respect to each other, that expand away from the center in different directions.

The image is Hubble's most detailed picture ever created of the nebula.

Hubble has been used to study nebulae for years. Most of them are spherical and appear to be green or blue, though the reverse "S" shape has been seen before in nebulae with binary stars in the center. So far, only one star, a dense white dwarf, has been found at NGC 5189's center.

The Hubble image shows dense knots in the middle of the nebula. Their size in the image is deceptive - each of these knots is the size of the entire Solar System.

Full size picure Link: NASA

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