Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Dusty wings, resembling a butterfly, unfold around a star late in its life in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the short-lived event, known as a protoplanetary nebula, around IRAS 20068+4051. What shapes and stories can you tell about this image? Leave a comment below.

The wings spreading from this star are just the first gasps of a dying star. When a star with a size sim­i­lar to our Sun burns through all of its hydro­gen fuel, the star begins to shed its outer lay­ers and puffs them out into space as giant bub­bles. High velocity interstellar winds push and mold the gas and dust released by the star. Radi­a­tion from the now dead stars white, hot core, called a white dwarf, heats the expand­ing shells of gas caus­ing the mate­r­ial to glow. Even­tu­ally, the neb­ula will fade as the mate­r­ial cools and expands into space. The white dwarf will cool and fade slowly from view over the next sev­eral bil­lion years. Our Sun will meet a sim­i­lar fate but not for another five bil­lion years or so.

Protoplanetary nebula, or a pre-planetary nebula, give astronomers a glimpse at the beginnings of the dying process. While astronomers call them plan­e­tary neb­u­lae, they have noth­ing to do with plan­ets. Planet hunters in the 17th and 18th cen­turies cat­a­loged many objects that had an orb-like appear­ance in tele­scopes; much like a planet. IRAS 20068+4051 is located toward the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.