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