Butterfly Nebula (NGC 6302) – The Galaxy’s Hottest Insect
Tucked deep in the arms of the Milky Way galaxy, lies the Butterfly Nebula. Infamous for its wing-like structure, resembling a butterfly, this planetary nebula is truly beautiful.
However, like nearly all deep space objects, it is a brutal and deadly environment. Twin jets of ionized gas jut out from both ends. At the center, the hellishly hot leftover remnant of a former star. Despite its stunning visual appeal, the Butterfly Nebula is a death trap for all life.
Where is the Butterfly Nebula?
The Butterfly Nebula is tucked deep in the constellation Scorpius, sitting a distant 4,000 light-years away. In other words, well over 23 quadrillion miles away. Surprisingly, in cosmic measurements, this is a short hop, skip and a jump from Earth. Yet, this is thankfully far beyond any hazardous distance to us.
What Causes the Shape of the Butterfly Nebula?
Similar to all planetary nebula, the leftover star at the center ran out of its fuel and shed its outer layers. Unable to “go supernova,” due to its size, the large star left only a much smaller white dwarf star behind.
Yet, do not be fooled. Data tell us that the central star in the Butterfly Nebula is likely 450,000º Fahrenheit. Basically, hot enough to melt nearly all metals. Actually, these hot temperatures would melt lead and iron with great ease.
Also, asked by a thick disc of gas and dust (seen in the center), the star is not easily seen. During a Hubble mission to install its new Wide Field Camera 3, photographic evidence of the star emerged in 2009.
Shining bright in ultraviolet light, the star heats up – and energizes the surrounding gases, causing the vibrant colors. The wing-like shapes on both sides are supposedly the result of this dense center disc.