The Eskimo Nebula
In 1787, pioneering astronomer William Herschel discovered the nebula NGC 2392, nicknamed the Eskimo Nebula because from the ground, it resembles a person’s head surrounded by a fur-lined hood. The nebula lies about 2,870 light years away in the constellation of Gemini, and just 10,000 years ago, its gases composed the outer layers of a star like our sun—but the dying star swelled to the size of Earth’s orbit and its outer layers flung into space in a final burst of glory, forming a planetary nebular. The star became a white dwarf, illuminating the gases around it. Herschel was actually the one who coined the term ‘planetary nebula’, using it to refer to round, ball-like nebulas that reminded him of Uranus, but it’s misleading because while their elements may one day be recycled back into planets, these stellar remnants otherwise don’t have much to do with planets—and yet, the term has stuck. The image above was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2000, and shows far more of the nebula’s complex structure than Herschel could have ever seen: the bright central disc shows a bubble of material being blasted out by solar winds from the nebula’s core, so intense that they’re travelling over 1.5 million km/hr, and the outer disk contains a ring of strange orange filaments that stretch out like comets, yet are light years long. Astronomers are still puzzled about their origin, but suggest the filaments may have been formed by the collision of slow and fast moving gases.
(Image Credit: NASA/Andrew Fruchter)