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Rare Butterfly Nebula is 200 times hotter than the Sun and holds a mind-boggling secret

A RARE Butterfly Nebula around 200 times hotter than the Sun has left scientists puzzled.

Deep in the constellation Scorpius, the nebula hides a glimpse of our Sun’s final fate.


Black and white images of the Butterfly Nebula helped scientists discover that parts of it were moving uncharacteristicallyCredit: Lars Borchert and Bruce Balick/University of Washington

The nebula, known by scientists as NGC 6302, is a massive splash of glowing gas around 4,000 light-years away from Earth.

The winged nebula may look angelic, but it’s entire existence is chaos.

The Butterfly Nebula actually paints scientists a picture of what will happen to our Sun when it eventually runs out of fuel and dies.

Relax, though. The Sun is not expected to fizzle out for another 10billion years.

The wings of the nebula are what remain of the star’s outer layers of gas, which now surround a collapsed white dwarf.

But there is something “amiss” about the rare nebula, according to new research by Washington University in the US.

After examining two images of the Butterfly Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009 and 2020, scientists found the wings to have changed over the decade.

Black and white images made it clear to scientists when various features had moved from black regions into the white ones over time.

Scientists are baffled as to how the nebula can continue to transform even after running out of helium fuel.

“The Butterfly Nebula is extreme for the mass, speed and complexity of its ejections from its central star, whose temperature is more than 200 times hotter than the sun yet is just slightly larger than the Earth,” said Bruce Balick, a professor emeritus of astronomy who led the University’s research.

“I’ve been comparing Hubble images for years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Borchert found around six “jets” — beginning about 2,300 years ago and ending 900 years ago — which have been pushing material out in a series of asymmetrical outflows.

The team suspect this is what has been causing the nebula to shapeshift on the 11-year period.

“At this point, these are all just hypotheses,” added Balick.

“What this shows us is that we don’t fully understand the full range of shaping processes at work when planetary nebulae form.

“The next step is to image the nebular centre using the James Webb Space Telescope, since infrared light from the star can penetrate through the dust.

“It’s a creation story that is happening over and over again in our universe.”

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