IRAS 19024+0044 is a protoplanetary nebula located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila, resembling a dragonfly or starfish. The central Sun-like star, which is nearing the end of its life, is surrounded by an asymmetric cloud of gas and dust.
Astronomers study protoplanetary nebulae because they offer a glimpse at how stars like our own Sun end their lives. When a Sun-like stars runs out of the hydrogen fuel that powers fusion in its core, it sheds its outer layers into space, creating a beautiful and often intricately shaped cloud of gas and dust around it. At first, this cloud of gas and dust only reflects light from its parent star. Eventually the cool gas and dust is heated and ionized by the intense ultraviolet radiation streaming from the now exposed core of the star, which has now become a white dwarf. The glowing nebula around the white dwarf star has become a fully fledged planetary nebula.
Hubble captured IRAS 19204+0044 in a rare and short-lived period of its life. It has clearly five blue elongated lobes that extend away from the central star. The central region shows two dark bands southwest and northeast of the center, and a very faint, diffuse halo surrounds the lobes. Astronomers don’t know for sure what causes the lobes to be uneven. Changing jets or explosive ejections of matter from the star are a couple of possibilities.
IRAS 19024 +0044 is blue because the light component of this color from the star more easily disperse the gas and dust in the rays of red and orange. This is similar to what happens to sunlight in the Earth’s atmosphere, giving the sky its distinctive shade of blue.
This composite picture was created from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA and R. Sahai