Top Ten Space Pictures: Best of 2009

Top Ten Space Pictures: Best of 2009
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Hubble Catches Space "Butterfly"

A dying star on the verge of exploding creates a cosmic "butterfly" in a picture from the Wide Field Camera 3--a new camera installed in May during the Hubble Space Telescope's final servicing mission. The Hubble team released some of the first pictures taken by the upgraded telescope in September.

Known as a planetary nebula, this structure lies roughly 3,800 light-years away. Optical filters in the space telescope allowed astronomers to precisely determine the nebula's chemical makeup, temperature, and density, and to trace the stages of the star's demise.

The central star, now obscured by a dense band of dust, was once five times the mass of the sun. Over the past two thousand years the star has expelled most of its outer gas envelope to create the ghostly "wings," which together span about two light-years.
— Image courtesy NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
 
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