Home Science Space Stunning Space Butterfly Captured by ESO Telescope

Stunning Space Butterfly Captured by ESO Telescope

Resembling a butterfly with its symmetrical structure, beautiful colors, and intricate patterns, this striking bubble of gas — known as NGC 2899 — appears to float and flutter across the sky in this new picture from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars.

This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars.
This highly detailed image of the fantastic NGC 2899 planetary nebula was captured using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. This object has never before been imaged in such striking detail, with even the faint outer edges of the planetary nebula glowing over the background stars. (Image: ESO)

NGC 2899’s vast swathes of gas extend up to a maximum of 2 light-years from its center, glowing brightly in front of the stars of the Milky Way as the gas reaches temperatures upwards of 10,000 degrees. The high temperatures are due to the large amount of radiation from the nebula’s parent star, which causes the hydrogen gas in the nebula to glow in a reddish halo around the oxygen gas, in blue.

This object, located between 3,000 and 6,500 light-years away in the Southern constellation of Vela (The Sails), has two central stars, which are believed to give it its nearly symmetric appearance. After one star reached the end of its life and cast off its outer layers, the other star now interferes with the flow of gas, forming the two-lobed shape seen here. Only about 10-20 percent of planetary nebulae display this type of bipolar shape.

Astronomers were able to capture this highly detailed image of NGC 2899 using the FORS instrument installed on UT1 (Antu), one of the four 8.2-meter telescopes that make up ESO’s VLT in Chile. Standing for FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph, this high-resolution instrument was one of the first to be installed on ESO’s VLT and is behind numerous beautiful images and discoveries from ESO. FORS has contributed to observations of light from a gravitational wave source, has researched the first known interstellar asteroid, and has been used to study in-depth the physics behind the formation of complex planetary nebulae.

This image shows the sky around the location of NGC 2899, which is visible at the very centre of the frame. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2.
This image shows the sky around the location of NGC 2899, which is visible at the very center of the frame. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2. (Image: ESO)

This image was created under the ESO Cosmic Gems program, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing, or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes for the purposes of education and public outreach. The program makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

Provided by: ESO [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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