Roberts 22

The Butterfly nebula by Hubble. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Sahai (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

The Butterfly nebula by Hubble. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Sahai (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

The Interstellar Butterfly is Hubble’s Picture of the Week. Robert’s 22 is just another name for the nebula. This is what happens to a star like our own Sun as it ends its life. Stars of this size don’t blow up, rather they shed their envelopes and produce nebulae of various shapes and all beautiful.

The lobes in Roberts 22 have some outflows said to move at 450 km/s, that’s like a million miles per hour!

Pay a visit to the site and see a great archive of images.

Here’s the caption to the image:

They say the flap of a butterfly’s wings can set off a tornado on the other side of the world. But what happens when a butterfly flaps its wings in the depths of space?

This cosmic butterfly is a nebula known as AFGL 4104, or Roberts 22. Caused by a star that is nearing the end of its life and has shrugged off its outer layers, the nebula emerges as a cosmic chrysalis to produce this striking sight. Studies of the lobes of Roberts 22 have shown an amazingly complex structure, with countless intersecting loops and filaments.

A butterfly’s life span is counted in weeks; although on a much longer timescale, this stage of life for Roberts 22 is also transient. It is currently a preplanetary nebula, a short-lived phase that begins once a dying star has pushed much of the material in its outer layers into space, and ends once this stellar remnant becomes hot enough to ionise the surrounding gas clouds and make them glow. About 400 years ago, the star at the centre of Roberts 22 shed its outer shells, which raced outwards to form this butterfly. The central star will soon be hot enough to ionise the surrounding gas, and it will evolve into a fully fledged planetary nebula.

2 thoughts on “Roberts 22

  1. How soon will the star be hot enough to ionize the gasses? Within our lifetimes? Are any planets known to exist in this system? I would think their transits through the gas cloud would be visible. It would be interesting to know, as it would be a glimpse of our solar system’s future fate.

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