The space agency is not referring to a giant alien spaceship when it speaks of a “metallic jewel bug in the sky”, but rather a star undergoing a violent death. The star is at the heart of the galaxy known as NGC 7027, which is 3,000 light years from Earth. NASA‘s Hubble snapped the beautiful image, which shows the star violently emitting gas as it nears the end of its life cycle.
Most stars do die in dramatic fashion – think of it as an old engine, which backfires and sputters as it runs out of fuel.
NASA said in a statement: “As nuclear fusion engines, most stars live placid lives for hundreds of millions to billions of years.
“But near the end of their lives they can turn into crazy whirligigs, puffing off shells and jets of hot gas. In this image NGC 7027 resembles a jewel bug, an insect with a brilliantly colorful metallic shell.
“Recently, NGC 7027’s central star was identified in a new wavelength of light — near-ultraviolet — for the first time by using Hubble’s unique capabilities. The near-ultraviolet observations will help reveal how much dust obscures the star and how hot the star really is.
“This object is a visibly diffuse region of gas and dust that may be the result of ejections by closely orbiting binary stars that were first slowly sloughing off material over thousands of years, and then entered a phase of more violent and highly directed mass ejections.
“Hubble first looked at this planetary nebula in 1998. By comparing the old and new Hubble observations, researchers now have additional opportunities to study the object as it changes over time.
“Planetary nebulas are expanding shells of gas created by dying stars that are shedding their outer layers. When new ejections encounter older ejections, the resulting energetic collisions shape the nebula.
“The mechanisms underlying such sequences of stellar mass expulsion are far from fully understood, but researchers theorize that binary companions to the central, dying stars play essential roles in shaping them.”
The Hubble Space Telescope will soon be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which is set to launch in 2021.
The JWST is so powerful it will reach back to the furthest realms and the earliest moments of the universe.
JWST, which is named after NASA’s second administrator James Webb who served from 1961 to 1968 and played a major part in the Apollo missions, has the capability of scanning thousands of planets for alien life – even though those planets are thousands of light-years away.
One of the major differences between Hubble and JWST will be how far back in time it will be able to see.
Hubble can see far into space and is essentially looking back in time as light travels to the craft.
Through Hubble, experts have been able to view the formation of the first galaxies, about one billion years after the Big Bang.
However, as JWST is much more powerful, it will be able to see just 0.3 billion years after the Big Bang to when visible light itself was beginning to form.