Hubble Space Telescope image of the Little Dumbbell Nebula

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a beautiful image of a cosmic cloud known as the Little Dumbbell Nebula.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula, also known as Messier 76, is located 3,400 light-years from Earth and is found in the constellation Perseus.

This is not to be confused with another famous cosmic cloud, the Dumbell Nebula!

The Little Dumbbell, also known as the planetary nebula, is a luminous cosmic cloud formed by an expanding shell of gas ejected from a dying star.

A planetary nebula has nothing to do with planets, but gets its name because they often appear as round, puffy shapes that resemble the bodies of planets.

Planetary nebulae form when a red giant star runs out of fuel and collapses under its own gravity, forming a dense stellar remnant known as a white dwarf.

Exploring the Little Dumbbell Nebula

Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Pagan (STScI)

The central bar structure seen in the Little Dumbell is actually a ring formation, but seen edge-on from the perspective of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Two lobes can be seen on either side of the annular structure.

As the dying star began to burn, it ejected this ring of gas and dust, possibly carved by the effect of the star once being a binary star.

The ejected material has formed a dense disk of dust and gas in the companion's orbital plane.

The progenitor star, meanwhile, forms a white dwarf burning at 120,000°C (216,000°F), 24 times the Sun's surface temperature.

This makes it one of the hottest known stellar remnants, and the star can be seen as a bright point in the center of the nebula.

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The two lobes seen in the image are formed from material ejected into space at 2 million miles per hour.

This tremendous speed is the result of them being propelled by the outflow of stellar material from the dying star.

Although all is now in the dark about the Little Dumbbell Nebula and its dying star, as this Hubble Space Telescope image shows, it will disappear within 15,000 years: a blink of an eye in cosmic terms.

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