The interaction of two doomed stars has created this spectacular ring, adorned with bright clumps of gas – a diamond necklace of cosmic proportions. Aptly known as the “Necklace Nebula,” this planetary nebula is located 15,000 light-years from Earth in the small, dark constellation of Sagitta (the arrow). ESA / Hubble & NASA, K. Noll
About 10,000 years ago, two stars that had been peacefully orbited got into a sticky conflict when the larger of the two got too close to its companion and shot outward, devouring the other. The resulting jumble of a bloated star spun so fast that it shed its outer layers, forming a gas bubble that expanded into space and eventually spanned two light years.
That dramatic event formed the beautiful Necklace Nebula, also known as PN G054.2-03.4, located 15,000 light years away in the constellation Sagitta (the Arrow). This nebula was recently captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in the image shown above. The gas ring is littered with clumps of gas that shine brightly like jewelry, after which the nebula was named. The gas glows when illuminated with ultraviolet light generated by nearby stars, giving the nebula its distinctive appearance.
Even after their dramatic conflict, the two stars continue to orbit each other closely in the heart of the nebula. They are only a few million miles apart and orbit each other in just over a day. They are so close together that they appear as a single point in the picture.
This is not the first time Hubble has mapped this particular nebula. The image below was also taken in 2011 when the nebula was only recently discovered. Hubble used the wide field camera 3 installed in 2009 to capture this image.
A previous image of the Necklace Nebula taken by Hubble in 2011. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)
Hubble’s hardware has largely stayed the same since 2011, but software has improved, such as image processing technology. This made it possible to create a sharper image of the target that is more detailed than the version from 10 years earlier. The newest image is a composite including the images taken with the same wide-field camera 3.