A blue eye in space


This image of the Saturn Nebula appearing in the darkness of space this week was captured by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The Southern European Observatory (ESO) describes this image as “a series of oddly shaped bubbles, shining in shades of pink and blue”. The strange structures of the Saturn Nebula, or planetary nebula NGC 7009, resemble a bright blue eye in the dark sky, all created by dust. The image was captured by the MUSE (Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) instrument, mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), as part of a study that first mapped the dust inside a planetary nebula.

“The Saturn Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away in the constellation of the Aquarius. Its name derives from its strange shape, which resembles the planet with everyone’s favorite rings, seen in profile”, said the ESO statement. However, it is first noticed that planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This, for example, was “a small mass star that expanded to form a red giant at the end of its life beginning to release its outermost layers”.

Thus, the combination of strong stellar winds and some ultraviolet radiation, has made appear a nebula that still holds in the center the doomed star, the bright spot visible in this image, which is in the process of becoming a white dwarf. “The Saturn Nebula will last only a few tens of thousands of years before it expands and cools so much that it will become invisible to us”.

MUSE is an instrument that is installed in one of the four Main Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Where only we see brightness and color. Thanks to this instrument, a map with intricate structures in the dust was revealed, including shells, a halo and a waveform line.