Stars burn long and bright, sometimes up to billions of years, so when it comes to the end of their life span, the celestial spheres tend to go out brilliantly.
Planetary nebula NGC 2392, a star located 4,200 light-years from Earth and now in one of its final phases of life, is no exception. This "Eskimo Nebula" meets its death in a radiant blaze of glory in a composite photo released by NASA on Thursday.
So which colors in the image correspond to parts of the nebula? NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory explains in a statement :
This composite image of NGC 2392 contains X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple showing the location of million-degree gas near the center of the planetary nebula. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope show -- colored red, green, and blue -- the intricate pattern of the outer layers of the star that have been ejected.
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The composite photo of NGC 2392, provided by NASA, combines an X-ray shot and an optical image. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/N.Ruiz et al, Optical: NASA/STScI)
The star's core of hydrogen has been completely depleted, so the planetary nebula expands and sheds its outer layers. As National Geographic notes, once the outer layers are cast away, the nebula will become a white dwarf -- a dense stellar remnant of the star's core. Most lower-mass stars follow this life cycle, but some more massive stars blow themselves apart in a violent explosion called a supernova.