Hubble views the Little Gem Nebula

European Space Agency/Hubble and NASA Press Release

Planetary nebula NGC 6818 lies 6,000 light-years away in Sagittarius. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt.
Planetary nebula NGC 6818 (α=19h 44m, δ=-14° 09′ J2000) lies 6,000 light-years away in Sagittarius. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1787. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt.
This colourful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6,000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale.

When stars like the Sun enter “retirement,” they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. NGC 6818 shows knotty filament-like structures and distinct layers of material, with a bright and enclosed central bubble surrounded by a larger, more diffuse cloud.

Scientists believe that the stellar wind from the central star propels the outflowing material, sculpting the elongated shape of NGC 6818. As this fast wind smashes through the slower-moving cloud it creates particularly bright blowouts at the bubble’s outer layers.

Hubble previously imaged this nebula back in 1997 with its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, using a mix of filters that highlighted emission from ionised oxygen and hydrogen. This image, while from the same camera, uses different filters to reveal a different view of the nebula.