From The European Southern Observatory
This color image of the famous southern Planetary Nebula, the Butterfly (NGC 6302), was obtained by combining blue, yellow and red images taken May 22, 1998, with 10 minute exposures and an image quality better than 0.6 arcseconds using the first unit 8.2-m telescope of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope.
Towards the end of their life, some massive stars expand to giant dimensions. They shed most of the hydrogen in their outer layers as a strong "stellar wind", before they contract towards a final compact stage as white dwarfs. After this ejection, the star remains thousands of times brighter and much hotter than the Sun for a few thousand years. Its strong ultraviolet radiation ionizes the previously ejected gas, which then shines before it disperses into interstellar space. The resulting nebulae often exhibit very complex morphologies.
The Butterfly Nebula belongs to the class of bipolar nebulae. A dark, dusty and disc-like structure - seen edge-on in this image - obscures the central star from our view. However, its strong radiation escapes perpendicular to the disk and heats and illuminates the material deposited there by the stellar wind. The origin of the dark disk may be due to the central star being a member of a double star system.
Based on press release May 27, 1998
Target Name: Butterfly Nebula
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Last Modified On: Saturday, December 16, 2000