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.
A new record for the most distant galaxy cluster has been set using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. CL J1001+0220 is located about 11.1 billion light-years from Earth. The discovery of this object pushes back the formation time of galaxy clusters — the largest structures in the universe held together by gravity — by about 700 million years.
Astronomers have discovered a new type of exotic binary star. In the system AR Scorpii a rapidly spinning white dwarf star powers electrons up to almost the speed of light. These high energy particles release blasts of radiation that lash the companion red dwarf star, and cause the entire system to pulse dramatically every 1.97 minutes with radiation ranging from the ultraviolet to radio.