The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has detected superhot blobs of gas, each twice as massive as the planet Mars, being ejected near a dying red giant star in the V Hydrae binary system. The plasma balls are zooming so fast through space it would take only 30 minutes for them to travel from Earth to the Moon.
While truly massive stars go out in a blaze of glory, intermediate-mass stars — those between roughly one and eight times the mass of the Sun — are somewhat quieter. Such stars eventually form cosmic objects known as planetary nebulae, so named because of their vague resemblance to planets when seen through early, low-resolution telescopes.
Despite their name, planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. They were described as such by early astronomers whose telescopes showed them as glowing disc-like objects, but we now know that they represent the final stage of activity of stars like our Sun. A way of estimating more accurate distances to planetary nebulae dispersed across our Galaxy has just been announced.
M87 is a giant elliptical galaxy with a total mass more than a million million times that of the Sun that lies at the centre of the Virgo Cluster about 50 million light-years away. New observations with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope have revealed the full extent of the galaxy’s cannibalistic nature.