The European Southern Observatory’s 8.2-metre Very Large Telescope captured the most detailed view yet of NGC 2899, a colourful twin-lobed planetary nebular that resembles a vast butterfly surrounded by glowing clouds of high-temperature gas. Reaching temperatures of some 10,000 degrees, the gas is heated by torrents of radiation from the nebula’s parent star, with hot hydrogen creating a reddish halo surrounding the blue of oxygen gas. Located in the southern constellation Vela, the nebula features two central stars. One, near the end of its life, blew off its outer layers but the other star interferes with the outward flow of gas, creating the unusual two-lobed shape. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of planetary nebulae feature such bipolar shapes. This spectacular image was captured by one of the VLT telescopes using the FORS instrument.
Astronomers have discovered three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star.
An international team of astronomers has discovered glowing gas clouds surrounding distant quasars. The new survey of these active galaxies indicates that haloes around quasars are far more common than expected. The properties of the haloes in this surprising find are also in striking disagreement with currently accepted theories of galaxy formation in the early universe.