The Egg Nebula (also known as CRL 2688). Located roughly 3,000 light-years from Earth. The image shows a pair of "searchlight" beams emerging from a hidden star, criss-crossed by numerous bright arcs. This image, shown in false color, sheds new light on the poorly understood ejection of stellar matter which accompanies the slow death of Sun-like stars. The central star in CRL2688 was a red giant a few hundred years ago. The nebula is a large cloud of dust and gas ejected by the star, expanding at a speed of 20km/s (115,000mph). For the first time, we can see a 10,000 year-old history of mass-ejection in a red giant star with this much detail. When Sun-like stars get old, they become cooler and redder, increasing their sizes and energy output tremendously. They are called red giants. Most of the carbon (the basis of life) and particulate matter (crucial building blocks of solar systems like ours) in the universe is manufactured and dispersed by red giant stars. When a red giant star has ejected all of its outer layers, the ultraviolet radiation from the exposed hot stellar core makes the surrounding cloud of matter created during the red giant phase glow. The object becomes a planetary nebula. A long-standing puzzle is how planetary nebulae acquire their complex shapes and symmetries since red giants and the gas/dust clouds surrounding them are mostly round. Credit: Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger (JPL) the WFPC2 Science Team and NASA.
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