ROBERT GENDLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ROBERT GENDLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Dumbbell nebula (M27), optical image. This is a planetary nebula, shells of gas cast off by a small star as it nears the end of its life. The gas glows as it is ionised by radiation from the newly exposed core of the star. As the material moves away and the central star cools, the nebula fades. Typically, planetary nebulae last a few thousand years. The Sun is destined to end its life as a planetary nebula is some five billion years time. Despite the name, planetary nebulae are not related to planets, the name arose due to their planet-like appearance when viewed through early telescopes. M27 lies around 1200 light years away in the constellation Vulpecula.
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