Geekery: NASA’s Hubble Bubble Nebula Images


The Hubble will be 26 years old this Sunday – and it’s already got a BIG party balloon!

Yesterday the telescope photographed this giant Bubble Nebula created by a massive, super-hot star that resides about 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia. The Bubble Nebula – NGC 7635 – is 7 light-years across.

hubble bubble nebula location

From NASA:

“The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a “stellar wind” moving at over four million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

As the surface of the bubble’s shell expands outward, it slams into dense regions of cold gas on one side of the bubble. This asymmetry makes the star appear dramatically off-center from the bubble, with its location in the 10 o’clock position in the Hubble view.

Dense pillars of cool hydrogen gas laced with dust appear at the upper left of the picture, and more “fingers” can be seen nearly face-on, behind the translucent bubble.

The gases heated to varying temperatures emit different colors: oxygen is hot enough to emit blue light in the bubble near the star, while the cooler pillars are yellow from the combined light of hydrogen and nitrogen. The pillars are similar to the iconic columns in the “Pillars of Creation” Eagle Nebula. As seen with the structures in the Eagle Nebula, the Bubble Nebula pillars are being illuminated by the strong ultraviolet radiation from the brilliant star inside the bubble.

The Bubble Nebula was discovered in 1787 by William Herschel, a prominent British astronomer. It is being formed by a proto-typical Wolf-Rayet star, BD +60º2522, an extremely bright, massive, and short-lived star that has lost most of its outer hydrogen and is now fusing helium into heavier elements. The star is about four million years old, and in 10 million to 20 million years, it will likely detonate as a supernova.”

For more photos – you know you want a new desktop image – check out the gallery here.

  • Shawn

    amazing stuff. It’ also amazing that hey can see stuff that far away too.

  • euansmith

    “seven light years across” :O

    • Panos

      Considering our solar system is ~4 light years in across, and the Sun is a small star, seems normal. 🙂

      • Darkjedi

        Our solar system is significantly smaller than 4 light years across. In fact, the nearest star (Alpha Centauri) is 4.37 light years distant. Even if you count the Oort cloud (the sphere of billions of comets encircling our solar system), that only gives a total size of 0.03 to 0.08 light years.

        To put things into perspective, the Voyager 1 probe passed the barrier between our solar system and interstellar space (the ‘heliopause’) in only 32 years, but would require 40,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri at 4.37 light years away… and it’s not even headed that direction.

        Another scale postulates that if the Earth were the size of a grape, the sun would be a beach ball 490 feet away, Jupiter would be about half a mile away, and the edge of the solar system about a 3.5 miles. The nearest star (Alpha Centauri at 4.37 ly distant) would be 24,000 miles away.

        • Panos

          Heliopause (the point where the Sun’s solar wind, travelling outward at 400km/s collides with the interstellar medium) doesn’t define the end of the solar system. The gravitational pull of the star does, which is estimated at 1.87ly-2ly (radius), and includes the Oort Cloud, where most of the Solar system comets coming from.
          So x2 = 3.74ly-4ly diameter over the planet plane. (could be more because is not a perfect sphere and depends the gravitational pull of other nearby starts on all directions)

          Proxima Centauri is the nearest star at ~4.2ly. The Alpha Centauri binary system, is further away at ~4.37ly 🙂
          (yes degree in astronomy)