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Methuselah Nebula MWP1

December 1, 2010

Since we’re made of stardust – you do know that don’t you? – and I’m still thinking of painting another astronomy painting:  some awe-inspiring universe-prettiness for you today.  Enjoy!

The lovely, symmetric planetary nebula cataloged as MWP1 lies some 4,500 light-years away in the northern constellation Cygnus the Swan. One of the largest planetary nebulae known, it spans about 15 light-years. Based on its expansion rate the nebula has an age of 150 thousand years, a cosmic blink of an eye in the 10 billion year life of a sun-like star. But planetary nebulae represent a very brief final phase in stellar evolution, as the nebula’s central star shrugs off its outer layers to become a hot white dwarf. In fact, planetary nebulae ordinarily only last for 10 to 20 thousand years. As a result, truly ancient MWP1 offers a beautiful challenge to astronomers studying the evolution of its central star.

Source:  Astronomy Picture of the Day (Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman)

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