Like a Phoenix from the Ashes, a Butterfly Nebula is born from the Dying Embers of a Red Giant

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory captured a butterfly-shaped image of a nebula emerging from the dust of a dying red giant star.

Called L2 Puppis (or HD 56096), the red giant star is located in the constellation Puppis at 200 light-years away from planet Earth with a mass range of 1 to 3 solar masses and shines at 1.500 to 2.400 times brighter than our Sun, with a surface temperature of 5,660 degrees Fahrenheit or 3,127 degrees Celsius.

An imager, (ZIMPOL), from the newly installed instrument (SPHERE) on-board VLT, shows delicate details of L2 Puppis. They confirm the existence of dust in a disc configuration, seen from Earth edge-on, but provide a more detailed view. Out of information from ZIMPOL, a three-dimensioned model of dust structures was created. The images are three times sharper than NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers discovered the dust disc emanating from L2 Puppis at 900 million KM span, slightly farther than the distance from Sun to Jupiter. It creates a symmetrical cone-shape hourglass surrounding the star. A second light source was observed at 300 million kilometers from L2 Puppis, at twice the distance from the Sun. The companion star is likely a younger red giant of a lower mass, that orbit the older red giant every few years.

The amalgamation of a dying red giant in a dust setting and a companion orbiting star lead to a formation called a bipolar planetary nebula.  The “planetary” attributed to no planets, but just to the roundness of the formation, which is planet-like.

The study lead author Pierre Kervella says,“The origin of bipolar planetary nebulae is one of the great classic problems of modern astrophysics, especially, the question of how exactly stars return their valuable payload of metals back into space — an important process because it is this material that will be use to produce later generations of planetary systems,”




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