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skull and stars in the “belly” of the whale


The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has provided an ominous yet beautiful image of NGC 246, also known as the Skull Nebula.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The formation is located at a distance of approximately 1600 light-years from Earth – in the “belly” of the constellation Cetus. The bizarre structure in its outlines resembles a skull drifting in the vastness of the universe.

This mesmerizing image was taken with the FORS 2 receiver at the Very Large Telescope (ESO VLT) in the Chilean Atacama Desert. ESO notes that NGC 246 is the first known planetary nebula with a hierarchical triple star system at its center.

So, in the “heart” of the structure is a white dwarf – the “remnant” of a star that has completed its normal life cycle and in which thermonuclear reactions have ceased. This luminary is accompanied by another star. Completing the picture is a dull red dwarf that is not visible in this image.

Observations show that the white and red dwarfs revolve around a common center of gravity, forming a close pair, and the orbit of the outer star is approximately 1900 Earth’s orbit radii from them.

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