Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Medusa Nebula

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The Medusa Nebula


Braided, serpentine filaments of glowing gas
suggest this nebula's popular name, The Medusa Nebula.

Also known as Abell 21, this Medusa is an old
planetary nebula
some 1,500 light-years away in the constellation

Like its mythological
namesake, the nebula is associated
with a dramatic transformation.

The planetary
phase represents a final stage in
of low mass stars
like the sun,
as they transform themselves from red giants to hot white dwarf
stars and in the process shrug off their outer layers.

Ultraviolet href="">radiation
from the hot star powers the nebular glow.

The Medusa's transforming hot central star is visible in the
color image
as the small blue star within the upper
half of the overall bright

Fainter filaments clearly extend above and to
the left of the bright crescent region.

The Medusa Nebula is estimated to be over 4 light-years across.

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