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Hubble holds up magnifying glass to 'ant-nebula'

Hubble image of the 'ant nebula'
Hubble image of the 'ant nebula' (Click image for larger view)  

(CNN) -- A newly released Hubble Space Telescope image of the so-called "ant nebula" challenges existing theories about the death of stars similar to our sun, astronomers said Thursday.

Revealing 10 times more detail than ground-based observations, the Hubble image reveals the "ant's" body as a pair of fiery lobes protruding from a dying star.

By observing sun-like stars such as this one as they approach their deaths, astronomers are beginning to discover that our sun's fate probably will be more interesting, complex, and striking than previously imagined, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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Of particular interest are the symmetrical patterns, which are unlike the chaotic patterns expected from an ordinary explosion, astronomers said. Scientists using Hubble would like to understand how a spherical star can produce such prominent, non-spherical symmetries in the gas it ejects.

Possible explanations for the patterns include the gravitational influence of a closely orbiting companion star, or the spinning action of the dying star itself.

No other planetary nebula observed by Hubble closely resembles this one, technically known as Mz3, astronomers said.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.



RELATED STORIES:
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RELATED SITES:
HubbleSite
Space Telescope Science Institute
Hubble Heritage Project


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