A Slice of Lemon

Credit: Howard Bond (Space Telescope Science Institute), Robin Ciardullo (Pennsylvania State University) and NASA

IC 3568 glows like a lemony plasma globe in this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the image of the tiny planetary nebula, also called the Lemon Slice Nebula. IC 3568 is also one of the simplest planetary nebulae astronomers have observed. Faint structure, like the inside of a lemon, can be seen in the bright central bubble surrounding the central star. A faint halo extends beyond the bright center in this classic “round” planetary nebula.

IC 3568 is a young planetary nebula having has a diameter of only about 0.4 light-years or about 800 times the size of our solar system. This means it would take a beam of light less than a six months to cross the nebula.

Plan­e­tary neb­ula have noth­ing to do with plan­ets except that to early astronomers these round, bub­bles of gas looked like the plan­ets Uranus and Nep­tune. Plan­e­tary neb­ula are the last stage of life for stars like our Sun. After bil­lions of years, stars reach a point where there is lit­tle hydro­gen gas to burn. To help con­vert their stel­lar fur­naces to burn other ele­ments such as helium, the star bal­loons in size to become a red giant. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the star col­lapses back on itself. This increases the tem­per­a­ture at its core and most of the stars mate­r­ial is cat­a­pulted into space, form­ing a bub­ble around the star. This doesnt hap­pen all at once but in stages.

IC 3568 lies about 9,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. Camelopardalis is the Latin word for giraffe; a camel-like animal, with a long neck and spots of a leopard. When first seen, camels amazed crowds throughout the Roman world. Camelopardalis is a faint constellation probably created by Petrus Plancius for his star atlas. The Greeks saw no constellations in the part of the sky near the North Star and considered it to be empty.

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