The dumbbell-shaped nebula in the Hubble image may show evidence of stellar cannibalism

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The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning new image of glowing gas ejected from a dying star, in this case a “cosmic dumbbell.”

The portrait may also contain evidence that the star swallowed another star in the form of a star cannibal before collapsing.

To celebrate the 34th anniversary of the space probe's launch on April 24, 1990, NASA released an image of the Little Dumbbell Nebula, also known as Messier 76 or M76.

Located 3,400 light-years away in the constellation Perseus, the nebula is an expanding shell of gas ejected by a dying red giant star. The cosmic object is called a planetary nebula, but it has nothing to do with planets.

Planetary nebulae usually have a circular structure, so named because they resembled the disks that formed when the French astronomer Charles Messier discovered one in 1764. In 1780 Pierre Mechain discovered the Little Dumbbell Nebula, and astronomers were the first to take it. A detailed view of it in 1891. The Photogenic Nebula has been a favorite of both professional and amateur astronomers due to its unique shape.

If researchers confirm that the nebula holds evidence of a case of cosmic cannibalism, it could provide evidence of a long-theorized companion to a red giant.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula includes a ring that, to our view, looks like a central bar connecting the two lobes on either side of the ring. Before the aging red giant star collapsed, it released a ring of gas and dust. Later, the ring may have been shaped by a companion star, astronomers believe, and the ring of gas and dust eventually formed a thick disk.

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The companion star, which once orbited the red giant, is nowhere to be seen in Hubble's image. Astronomers think the red giant star swallowed its companion, and by studying the ring, they can tease out “forensic evidence” of this cosmic, cannibalistic activity. NASA publication.

Since the collapse, the red giant star has become a dead stellar remnant known as an ultradense white dwarf star. The white dwarf has a burning temperature of 250,000 degrees Fahrenheit (138,871 degrees Celsius), 24 times hotter than the surface of our Sun, and is one of the hottest white dwarf stars known.

A white dwarf is the bright white light at the center of the nebula in Hubble's image.

Meanwhile, the two lobes seen in the portrait represent the outflow of hot gas and material from the dying star with a hurricane-like force, hurling it into space at 2 million miles per hour. The stellar wind from the star collides with the cooler and slower-moving gas ejected by the star early in its life, which is seen in the lobes.

Ultraviolet radiation from a burning hot star causes the gases to glow in different colors representing different elements, such as red for nitrogen and blue for oxygen.

Astronomers estimate that within 15,000 years, the nebula will disappear from the night sky as it continues to expand and grow dimmer.

The Little Dumbbell Nebula is one of 53,000 astronomical objects observed by Hubble over 34 years, and to date the telescope has made 1.6 million observations. Astronomers around the world rely on the telescope and its growing database to make new discoveries.

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“The space telescope is the most scientifically productive space astrophysics mission in NASA history,” according to a NASA release.

Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope complement each other, collecting observations at different wavelengths of light for a sharper, deeper view of the universe as astronomers seek to unravel the mysteries surrounding supernovae, distant galaxies, exoplanets and other celestial oddities.

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