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This celestial object looks like a delicate butterfly. But it is far from serene. What resemble dainty butterfly wings are actually roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour—fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in 24 minutes!
A dying star that was once about five times the mass of the Sun is at the center of this fury. It has ejected its envelope of gases and is now unleashing a stream of ultraviolet radiation that is making the cast-off material glow. The central star itself cannot be seen, because it is hidden within a doughnut-shaped ring of dust, which appears as a dark band pinching the nebula in the center.
NGC 6302, also known as the Butterfly or Bug Nebula, lies within our own Milky Way galaxy, roughly 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius. It is an example of a planetary nebula, so-named because many of them have a round appearance resembling that of a planet when viewed through a small telescope.
NGC 6302 was imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 in ultraviolet and visible light. Filters that isolate emissions from oxygen, helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur were used to create this composite image. The observations were part of the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Early Release Observations.