In celebration of the 29th anniversary of the launch of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on April 24, 1990, astronomers captured an image of the tentacled Southern Crab Nebula.
The nebula, officially known as Hen 2-104, is located several thousand light-years from Earth in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus. It appears to have two nested hourglass-shaped structures that were sculpted by a whirling pair of stars in a binary system. The duo consists of an aging red giant star and a burned-out star, a white dwarf. The red giant is shedding its outer layers. Some of this ejected material is attracted by the gravity of the companion white dwarf.
The result is that both stars are embedded in a flat disk of gas stretching between them. This belt of material constricts the outflow of gas so that it only speeds away above and below the disk. The result is an hourglass-shaped nebula.
This artist's impression of the formation of Southern Crab nebula illustrates its hourglass-shared structure, that has been created by the interaction between a pair of stars at its center: a red giant and a white dwarf. The red giant is shedding its outer layers in the last phase of its life before it too lives out its final years as a white dwarf.
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser