This Hubble Space Telescope image, a color composite released this week, depicts a shroud of material jettisoned by a central dying star. The cast-off material, known as a planetary nebula, will seed the cosmos with elements forged in the star’s nuclear furnace, some of which have formed into complex organic molecules.
This nebula, which surrounds the star Henize 3-401, is the most elongated ever found, notes Pedro García-Lario of the European Space Agency in Villafranca, Spain. His studies using light of several wavelengths show no sign of a companion star, which many astronomers suspected may have forced the ejected material to escape as a pair of elongated streamers. Instead, García-Lario suggests that the outflowing material, ionized by Henize 3-401’s own radiation, has been channeled by the star’s magnetic field. In a few thousand years, the star will exhaust its fuel and become a compact ember known as a white dwarf.