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.