Gemini South Telescope captures ‘exquisite’ view of vast planetary nebula

When stars with more than eight times the mass of the Sun run out of nuclear fuel, their cores implode and the star blows up in a supernova blast. Stars with less than about 80 percent the mass of the Sun tend to fizzle out, quietly transitioning to white dwarfs at the end of very long lives. But stars with masses in between those extremes can blow off their outer atmospheres during their death throes, creating spectacular planetary nebulae like CVMP 1, seen here in an image captured by the 8.1-metre Gemini South Telescope. Located some 6,500 light years away in the southern constellation Circinus, CVMP 1 is one of the largest known planetary nebulae. Spectacular as they are, such nebulae are relatively short-lived, typically persisting for only 10,000 years or so. CVMP 1 is intriguing because of its vast size and because the ejected gas is rich in helium and nitrogen, suggesting the nebula highly evolved and in the later stages of its development. As the progenitor star cools, it eventually will lose its ability to ionise the clouds and the beautiful display seen here will fade from view.

CVMP 1, a planetary nebula in the constellation Circinus (the Compass) is the result of a massive star throwing off its outer layers at the end of its life. Such nebulae are relatively short lived, typically lasting for just 10,000 years or so before fading away. Image: The international Gemini Observatory/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA