M2-9: The Twin Jet Nebula

M2-9 is 2100 light years away and over one light year across. It is in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus and is known as a butterfly planetary nebula. It is a low mass star like our Sun, but is in the final throes of its life. While dying, stars like this transform from normal stars to white dwarfs, casting off their outer gaseous layers. This expended gas th
en can form a planetary nebula that fades over thousands of years. In the centre of this planetary nebula are two stars orbiting inside a gaseous disk which is 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The gas expelled from the dying star escapes the disk and creates the bipolar appearance; the measured velocity of this gas is approximately 322 kilometres per second. Ground-based studies show that the nebula's size increases with time, which suggests that the stellar outburst that formed the 'wings' occurred just 1,200 years ago.

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